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Aztecs Find Success By Being Different

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San Diego State running back Walter Kazee played a role in the shift to a ground-centric offense at the end of 2012. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.
San Diego State running back Walter Kazee played a role in the shift to a ground-centric offense at the end of 2012. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images.

If you’ve ever been to San Diego, or even if you’ve only seen "Anchorman," you know that things are done a little bit differently there. Lousy weather? It doesn’t really happen in “America’s Finest City.” NFL Sunday Funday at the bar?  The early games don’t kick off with wings and a pitcher of beer like they do out East. It’s mimosas and brunch in Coronado Bay.

The San Diego State football team has made a habit out of going against the grain just like their city. 

The Aztecs don’t have a long and storied history of success on the gridiron. In fact, there’s really only two high water marks of note: The late 1960s through the 1970s, and right now. In both instances, SDSU got it done with an offensive philosophy that went against the conventional wisdom of the day. 

When Don Coryell ushered the Aztecs up to the Division I ranks in 1969, he knew he had a problem: With USC and UCLA cornering the market on recruiting in Southern California, there was no way SDSU could field a team that could run through a defense. Coryell’s solution was to simply throw over it instead. 

While many colleges were figuring out how to cope with the newfangled wishbone offense that the University of Texas debuted in 1968, Coryell’s Aztecs were blowing their doors off with an aerial attack nobody had seen before. The result was a record of 36-8 from 1969-1972 and the school’s first-ever bowl victory over Boston University, 28-7, in the Pasadena Bowl.

Coryell and his offense eventually moved to the big stage with Dan Fouts and the San Diego Chargers. The strategy had staying power as well. Coaches like Norv Turner and Mike Martz made their mark by using variations of the Air Coryell offense.

In recent years, the Aztecs have experienced a bit of a renaissance by turning current offensive trends on their ear. Rule changes favoring the passing game and the emergence of the spread offense have made an aerial attack the preferred method for advancing the pigskin in recent years, but SDSU has decided to buck the trend by taking the air out of the ball.

Last season, SDSU compiled a 9-4 record en route to a share of the Mountain West Conference Championship by averaging 220 yards per game on the ground — good for 20th in the nation — versus only 175 yards via the passing game. 

The biggest reason for the shift to the ground game was due to an injury to senior QB Ryan Katz, but the formula worked. The Aztecs won five straight games before losing to BYU in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Even with a new offensive coordinator in place, don't expect drastic changes to SDSU’s approach. Bob Toledo preaches balance in his offensive schemes, but has a reputation of producing 1,000-yard rushers at the collegiate level in the same way that Mike Shanahan does in the NFL. He’s done so at every coaching stop he’s had from UCLA to Tulane.

You can credit innovation, necessity or any other reason you like, but the Aztecs have found success by doing it their own way. 

You stay classy, San Diego.