Head Coach Rocky Long
First game of the year is always kind of exciting. You go into it with an idea of what your team is like, but you’re always surprised on the first game. We have a pretty good opportunity against a really good football team. They averaged over 33 points a game last year and the quarterback is back. They have changed their defensive coordinator because they were extremely good on offense last year and not very good on defense. I know him, not personally, but I know of him and he’ll do a great job on defense. He’s had great success. So I imagine they are a better football team than they were last year. It’s a good opportunity for us, but we’ll find out where we are in our development because we are a pretty young football team, especially up front.
Q. Has the team improved and become more consistent since the scrimmage?
I’m going to say yes, but I don’t know that for sure, because after that scrimmage, we stopped full speed tackling and we stopped going our offense against our defense. So we have been more consistent against scout looks.
Q. Any comments on your team captains?
Actually, being a captain on this football team is the greatest honor an athlete can get because coaches have no say so. It’s purely a vote by the players. They pick who they think are the best leaders on the team. It’s not necessarily the best player on your team. It’s not necessarily the most popular player on your team. It’s the guy they think that deserves to be the captain or the leader of the team. And that says something about all three of those guys.
Q. Why don’t you have set starters on special teams yet?
Because the kickers are so inconsistent. Depending on the day, a different one as a good day or depending on the day, a different one has a bad day, one or the other. We have to know before we get on the plane because we have a limited number of players we can take. So we have to know by Friday and it might take all the way to Friday to decide who we are going to have kick for us and who is going to punt for us.
Q. Does having an experienced quarterback compared to an inexperienced guy make a difference going into a season?
I think having an experienced quarterback help. People can argue that Ryan Lindley might be the best quarterback who ever played here. I don’t know if they would do that or not. I think he’s got a chance, a pretty good chance of making an NFL team. So we are going to miss him and him being in the same offense for three years really helps a guy perform well. Ryan Katz is a really good player. He’s an excellent quarterback that seems to get more familiar and more comfortable with our offense daily. He’s been a lot better the last week than he was the week before that. But I don’t think he has the grasp of our offense like Ryan Lindley did because he was in the same offense for three years. But the part that he’s been in the arena before sure helps. Now, he’s even played at Washington, but he didn’t play at the field we’re going to play at.
Q. Have you seen the current gap narrow a little more between teams in the Mountain West and the Pac-12?
I think there are some elite teams in every one of those leagues that the gap is probably the same as it ever was. But you get in the middle of the pack on down and there’s very little difference between leagues. It’s all hype.
Q. For the people who are not really believers, what would you say to them about this particular team that they may not know?
I wouldn’t say anything to them. The only way you can make believers out of anybody is to win, simple as that. Doesn’t matter what a coach says. I can have the best publicist in the world and he can tell me exactly what to say and it’s not going to make a difference. It’s not going to make anybody a believer until you actually prove it on the field.
Q. Where is this team, going do you feel like, going to spring camp, now having gone through fall camp, where does it stand as far as what your expectations were versus where you guys are right now?
That’s a good question. Since we have so many new guys that are playing for us this year as compared to last year, a lot of those guys had been in the program for a while and had been starters for a while and we have several new starters this year, especially in the offensive and defensive line. We are a lot better than we were in the spring, and I have a real hard time comparing us to who we are going to play because I don’t know how good they are. You don’t really know how good your guys are until you play someone else besides yourself. All these guys have ever done is compete against each other, the guys that I’m concerned about, because you never know how they are going to perform if they have not performed at that level before. You’re not sure how they are going to perform. Our expectations are always high. Everybody is undefeated right now and our expectations are to win every game. Depending on how you do on that game, you change your goals weekly.
Q. Thoughts on Ezell Ruffin:
When we recruited Ezell, he was really a good athlete. His high school highlight tape is one of the better highlights tapes I’ve ever seen. I would tell him this if he was here, because of immaturity and a lack of focus, it’s taken him a long time to get on that football field. He’s been on the scout team the last two years and we couldn’t cover him on the scout team. He scored a lot of touchdowns which made us coaches very angry, but he was doing it off of cards. Somebody drew a picture and told him where to go and he would run down there and catch the ball. He’s matured as a player. He understands the offense now. He knows how to adjust patterns. He knows where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there. When you know that and you have the athletic ability, guess what, you turn into a pretty good football player. Now, he has not done it on any stage but our little stage right out here in the practice field, so it will be interesting to see how he does Saturday.
Q. Have you talked to kids that have not played in a game before about what they are going to encounter and how to deal with it, and if so, what do you say?
I don’t believe in talking, I believe in preparing. Just like I think the rah rah speech is so over publicized and over believed that it’s ridiculous. If you prepare to play well, you are going to play well. Now you are talking about the environment they are going to be in. Well, we are going to pump crowd noise in today. Now I’ve heard, I haven’t been there, but I’ve heard, that it’s the loudest stadium in the NFL. And sometimes that bothers teams that don’t play in that environment all the time. So we are trying to prepare our players by pumping in crowd noise and it bugged me the other day. It was loud now. I’m surprised we didn’t get a bunch of complaints from the neighbors. We are going to do it again today and we might do it again tomorrow. So I think talking is overrated, doing is much more important.
Q. Has McFadden been the consummate player for your 3 3 5 defense?
I don’t think it has to do with the 3 3 5. It has to do with anybody that plays man to man coverage. If you’re going to play a majority of man to man coverage, your corners better be pretty darned good. And in that case, he has been one of the best I’ve been around that way. You can put him on an island and most of the time he’s going to make the play and very seldom is he going to get beat. Even the great ones get beat once in awhile. The other thing about Leon is he’s soft spoken, he’s humble; he’s a team guy; so all that added together. If they cover man to man, I don’t care if they are brash, I really don’t care. They can be as brash as they want to be if they can cover him. But I would much rather be around the ones that are team guys and not brash, and Leon is as easy going and as laid back as there’s ever been and he covers them just fine.
Q. For the value of this team for this season, were you pretty concerned last year when McFadden was talking about going to the NFL?
No, I was not. I think every young man has to make that decision for himself. He and his family have to make that decision for him and I always want what’s best for the players. Now, for our team, it was much better for our team that he came back, yes. But for him, that was a decision he had to make. Just like Ronnie Hillman had the same choice. He made a different decision, but I’m not concerned about that. Those kids have to make their own choices and I wish them the best when they do.
Q. What do you think will be the most difficult part of the game against Washington?
I don’t know. I know they are perceived to be really good because they are almost in the Top 25 in all the polls and their quarterback is kind of on the edge, but he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate. Their tight end is supposedly the best tight end in the country. I would be willing to argue that we might have the best tight end in the country. They have proven themselves on offense. Probably the hardest thing now, I say that, they are really good on offense but probably the hardest thing is us practicing against what we think they are going to do on defense. If we have practiced against what we think they are going to do, we are going to be just fine. If it’s something different than we have practiced, we are going to be in deep trouble. Because we are so young on offense, especially the offensive line, that if they throw something at us that we didn’t anticipate or didn’t prepare our team for, we will really struggle.
Q. Is Brice Butler looking like the impact player you hoped he would be as a senior?
I think Brice is going to have a good year. What’s really strange to me is, last year we didn’t have any wide receivers. Last year, we were moving defensive backs to wide receivers so we have a couple wide receivers to put out there. This year, it seems like all we have is wide receivers. I guess that’s a good problem to have. I’d rather have maybe a couple older defensive linemen.
Q. The way you went out and were able to get Katz and Butler, two guys with a lot of experience, how critical was that in moving forward? And obviously it’s an unusual situation and not something you would necessarily do every year.
Yeah, that’s happening more and more. It was really good for our program to get those two guys. There will be times we will try to do that since it’s becoming more common. We will try to do that again, I’m sure. When we have a big hole that we need to fill with an experienced guy, we’ll try to do that again. And the best coach I know has built a program doing that. Coach Fisher has built a program doing that. So you’ve got to learn from the best.
Q. Last season you guys went on the road into a big stadium, hostile environment at Michigan; I know the situation is a little different this year, but do you notice the buzz and attitude around the team, is that comparable to when you played Michigan?
No, it’s not, and I’m glad it’s not. Because when a team is overly excited or overly hyped because of where they are going to play or who they are going to play, that means you’re not good enough. When you prepare for a game, every week the same way, no matter who it is or where it is. Guess what, you’re good enough. Do you think Ohio State worries about going to Michigan and playing? They don’t worry about that. They worry about trying to beat them, but they don’t worry about that because they think they are good enough. Teams that get over excited and over hyped for those games, deep down, they don’t think they are good enough. So our team has been as calm as I’ve ever seen a team. Maybe they don’t know what’s coming. But I think maybe our guys think they are good enough. And you’re never going to win those games unless you think you’re good enough. I’m glad you asked that. I was wondering because I kind of thought there would be a little more buzz, but we are just taking it like any other game, which is really good, by the way.
Q. Is the buzz around the team and players the same as last year against Michigan?
Alec Johnson: Totally different game. This is just the first game of the year. We are just excited to play. Three weeks at camp, you look forward to playing anyone, getting ready to play another team is awesome. So, it’s different.
Q. And also going into Washington, everyone wants to talk about SDSU’s poor record in the past against the Pac-10 and Pac-12. How big of a win would this be for the program?
Alec Johnson: To start 1 0 in any season is a good start. The opponent doesn’t really matter. It would be good to just start off 1 0 in our season.
Q. Is there anything that you share with the guys about the fans, the loudness, etc.?
Ryan Katz: Yeah, it’s going to be a loud stadium. It’s a big stadium. They are going to have a lot of people there. But once the game starts, it is 100 yards and everyone in between those lines are the only people who matter. So just go out there and play your game.
Q. Coach said you’ve become more effective with the offense every day. Is that true and if so, where are you now compared to when you first got here?
Ryan Katz: Yeah, definitely. At first I was just trying to get the terminology down. And now, I’m just starting to feel a lot more comfortable with the concepts and what we are trying to do. Talking to Coach Ludwig, just really fine point what he wants and what he expects from the offense, I think I have a good grasp on that. You know, like you said, just try and get better every day.
Q. What is it about San Diego State that drew you here, and has that been reinforced since you’ve been here, whatever it was that drew you here?
Ryan Katz: Yeah, I started following San Diego State last year towards the end of the season. I liked what they had coming back and it’s definitely shown since I’ve been here. I’ve grown close with the guys and it’s been great working with them and getting to know everyone. I’ll just look forward to getting out there Saturday and playing with them for the first time.
Q. When you said you started following San Diego State, did you watch film more intensely or highlights or box scores? How did you follow them?
Ryan Katz: I would say more box scores. I tried to watch as many games as I could. I seen the Boise game last year, the Bowl game last year, and so yeah in, that aspect. So it was usually a later game, so I was able to check that out and just try to catch anything that I could.
Q. What have you seen on tape from their passing game, their wide receivers and their running backs?
Josh Wade: Well, a lot of their receivers are gone, so there are a lot of younger guys and their No. 1 receiver broke his wrist. So we think they are going to come out and they are going to throw the ball around. We are going to try to be prepared for anything that comes at us. They like to do a lot of shifts and motions and line their receiver up deep, wide out there. So we just have to cover the receivers and be prepared for most anything, because there’s not a lot of film on the younger receivers. So we are keeping the game plan open and just trying to get excited and be ready to play and expecting whatever comes at us.
Q. Do you feel like you guys have some looks for their quarterback since he hasn’t really seen the 3-3-5?
Josh Wade: Definitely, we are going to fly around. We’re going to try to play our game, throw some things at him that he has not seen, different blitzes and things like that. We are just going to go out and keep the energy up, fire on the football and hopefully be able to confuse him a little bit and see if that works out for us.
Q. On the expectations from the media on the game:
Josh Wade: Well, people have high expectations but we are going to play our game. We believe in our program and we believe in our school so we can go out and play with anybody. We want to be able to do that and show the country what we are made of in the first game. We have been hitting each other here for a long time so we want to go out and have the opportunity to play another opponent and prove to people what we are made of.
Q. Do you think you guys have received a lack of respect in some of the preseason prognosticating?
Josh Wade: Well, you would like to be ranked high and all that kind of stuff, but it’s nothing to be worried about. We are going to go out and play our game. We are excited. We want to do it. So now it’s just going out every week. The season is a marathon, going out and doing it over and over and being consistent and playing fundamentally, technically sound football.
Q. Is there something to be proven by the Aztec program? Has this program arrived or what are your thoughts about that?
Ryan Katz: Yeah, I think so. I think you should try to prove yourself every day and we are going to try to do that every week. You know, just take it week by week, and this one is the first one. So I’m not going to say it means any more than the other ones. We just want to come out this week and try to get the W.
Q. Does the fact that it’s against a Pac-12 team make it a bigger game than other games?
Ryan Katz: Not at all. This is the first one of 12 during the season, hopefully 13. So I wouldn’t say it’s a bigger game than any of them.
Q. Coach said that one of the things that he is interested to see is the offensive line, because there are so many new starters on it, do you guys have a bit of a chip on your shoulder, because if even your own head coach is not doubting but just interested to see how you’re going to play?
Alec Johnson: A little bit. I think we need to prove ourselves up front. We have three new starters coming back and the two starters that are coming back are coming off injury. So we have something to prove. So I’m excited to go out there and play and the other four guys in the line are as well. So I’m looking forward to it.
Q. How acquainted have you been able to get with your new offensive line mates?
Alec Johnson: Good. We got a lot of reps in camp, so the continuity is there. We just have to go out and play in games. It’s totally different. Things will be flying around, have to stay calm. We’ll be alright.
Q. The Aztecs program, the last two years, Bowl games, first time in school history. You had maybe one of the best quarterbacks ever to play here and one of the best running backs to play here. How important is it to keep the roll going?
Josh Wade: Well, the belief around here has changed a little bit in the sense that guys are going out every week knowing what we are capable of, a little bit more faith in what we are doing, and game planning and going through with the game plan and fighting through adversity as far as toughness goes on the team. We know how to win now. We have seen it. We got a taste of it. So now it’s just going out and understanding that wins are just not going to come. You have to go out and take them every week. It’s going to take an hour long football game to do that.
Q. What do you think will be the toughest part of this game?
Ryan Katz: You know it’s the first time we are going up against a different opponent. Being any game one, it’s just really trying to find your identity, how you are going to be during the game. You know, just try to stay positive, and things aren’t going to go your way all the time. It’s just seeing how people are going to react to the moment, and I think it will go well.
Q. Invariably in games like, this you get the topic brought up about being the conference and the talent; you’ve seen the talent levels here and at Oregon State. Is there still that big of a gap?
Ryan Katz: I don’t think so. I don’t know how it was before I got here, but all of these guys have confidence. I feel like all of these guys that I play with on the field going up against practice. Not sure about other teams in the Mountain West, but I think we can play with anyone. And you know, I think we’ll be ready to play against anyone. We are going to go out there and play our game and just try to get better every week.
Q. What have you learned or gleaned from playing with McFadden? What makes him special?
Josh Wade: Well, he’s an athlete. He’s fast. He’s quick. His reflexes are acute. I mean, he goes out every week with a chip on his shoulder and he’s very competitive. So when you see that and you get that kind of a mixture in a player you know there’s greatness. So you can expect good things from Leon, great things. And just seeing his work ethic in practice, he doesn’t like when guys catch balls on him. He has that competitive nature and he’s going to go after it. It gets everybody in the corner room going, he doesn’t say a lot but you don’t need to say a lot when you lead by example like he does. That’s the thing that separates him from a lot of other players is his aggressiveness and being an athlete on top of it.
Q. What is the difference between McFadden and other corners?
Josh Wade: It’s just his competitive nature. A lot of guys on our team have that where we hate to lose around here. We play with a chip on our shoulder, with toughness, with a fight, a chip, like you said. He just stands out, because with athleticism, like I said, it stands out a little bit more because he has the ability to make plays that some guys in some other places might not be able to do.
Q. Coach said you have a lot of good receivers this year, what does Ezell Ruffin do well as a receiver?
Ryan Katz: He uses his body really well. He’s not the biggest or the fastest guy on the field, but he has a real knack for making plays. He uses his body well when he’s running routes and holding off defenders. He’s done a great job during the spring and during fall camp and he’s just improving every day. He has not gotten a lot of playing time, but I look for him to be a big factor come Saturday.
Q. At some point during the game, that stadium is going to erupt and get loud and it may start to roll. What will you say at that moment to try to make sure that things don’t get out of hand like they sometimes can?
Ryan Katz: I’d say just try to calm everyone out. People have played in big stadiums before and we have crowd noise out here. Those speakers out there get pretty loud. We’ll probably do that one more time before the game. I think we’ll be ready for it. You know, like I said, things are going to happen during the game. You just have to roll with them and try to get past them.
Q. What might you say to your line mates when the stadium gets really loud?
Alec Johnson: Stay calm. Do what you do. Listen to each other, communicate. Tell us what the defense is doing and if something happened, or what did he beat you with. Things are going to happen in a game. Communication is the biggest thing up front for us.
Q. Coach said that if a team is overly excited to play an opponent, he believes that means the team doesn’t think it can win. But he says he has not seen that from this team. Is that a point of discussion or is that just the way this team is?
Alec Johnson: It’s just the way it is. Last year at Michigan we kind of got worked up and kind of made a bigger deal than we should have. Don’t really get that feel this year. So, we’ll see.