Brady Hoke's Coaching Profile on Rise as San Diego State Thumps Navy
SAN DIEGO -- So that's what a bowl victory looks like when dressed in red and black accompanied by shouts of "S-D-S-U, fight, fight, fight."
An NFL-bound receiver catching six passes before the second quarter arrived.
A freshman wearing a lucky No. 13 and running for 228 yards on 28 carries.
A 6-foot-4 quarterback tossing accurate spirals nearly 60 yards through the damp, chilly air.
San Diego State, what got into you?
"In my time here at the Naval Academy," said coach Ken Niumatalolo, who has worked at Annapolis since 1999, "that's as good of an offense as we've seen."
Giving an ESPN audience a show and Southern California a treat as USC and UCLA sit out this bowl season, San Diego State whomped Navy 35-14 in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night with a 555-yard performance that was as much about style points and history as outcome.
Oddsmakers favored SDSU by four points, but nobody had blown out the Midshipmen (9-4).
Navy had won four games against bowl teams, and its largest defeat was by eight points to Air Force.
So that's what a long-simmering eruption looks like, San Diego State winning its first bowl since Don Coryell's Aztecs beat Boston University in the 1969 Pasadena Bowl.
The breakout started with Aztecs senior receiver Vincent Brown making Navy look like it was in dry dock.
Brown, who will be selected in the next NFL draft, caught a sideline pass and side-stepped a Navy tackler to score a 58-yard touchdown as part of his 152-yard first half. SDSU is known for sending receivers to the NFL -- to name three, Isaac Curtis, Darnay Scott and Az Hakim -- but could its quarterback take advantage?
Ryan Lindley merely played the smartest game of his career, going 18-for-23 for 276 yards and two touchdowns against the nation's No. 66 pass defense.
Poor Navy had no way of simulating Lindley's lasers in bowl practices. "We'd need a bazooka," Niumatalolo said.
One heave traveled nearly 60 yards and went off Browns' fingertips. Best for Lindley, none of his passes went into Navy's hands.
On the same field a month ago, two ugly interceptions against Utah dampened Lindley's 528-yard passing performance.
The emerging junior isn't a secret in the West, where he's evolved from thrower into passer under SDSU's well-credentialed teachers.
SDSU's quarterback coach is Brian Sipe, the former Cleveland Browns and SDSU star who 41 years ago backed up Dennis Shaw in the Pasadena Bowl. Drawing up the schemes for Lindley is Al Borges, SDSU's offensive coordinator who held that job with Auburn and tutored quarterback Jason Campbell, now the Oakland Raiders starter. "They have very similar arms," Borges told FanHouse.
Along with Lindley, be sure to consider Aztecs running back Ronnie Hillman for your college football fantasy team in 2011.
The freshman, who moves east-west in a blink, outquicked and out-ran a well-blocked Navy defense that had given up 156.4 rushing yards per game. He had 108 yards by halftime, averaging 10.8 a pop.
"He's a tough runner inside and out," said Niumatalolo, whose staff likened Hillman to former Pitt star LeSean McCoy. "He's got great patience and vision. He's everything you want in a great back. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but what impressed me was his toughness."
Understandably confused about when SDSU had last won a bowl game (he mentioned the 1990s), Hillman was born in 1991, when a guy named Marshall Faulk ran for the Aztecs. "I can't be compared with him," said the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder, who led the country this year in rushing yards per game (109) by a freshman. "He's a (potential NFL) Hall of Famer. I'm not going to put myself up there."
Faulk never knew the thrill of winning a bowl game despite playing on teams more talented than these Aztecs, but then, he never played for a college coaching staff as good as the one SDSU head coach Brady Hoke assembled after leaving Ball State two years ago. Hoke inherited a 2-10 program, plus players such as Lindley and Brown. The previous Aztecs coach was Chuck Long, the former Iowa quarterback who was miscast as a head coach.
The Aztecs went 4-8 in Hoke's first season, then gave the school its first winning season and bowl appearance since 1998.
"It's not a blip on the radar," said former Aztecs safety Robert Griffith, who won Pro Bowl honors with the Minnesota Vikings. "I believe in coach Hoke. He is able to get his players to play for one another. That's the key to building a team."
Hoke has transformed a program known more far more for its potential than its production into a threat in the Mountain West Conference. Three years into a four-year evaluation of its BCS worthiness, the MWC desperately needs SDSU and incoming Boise State to help offset the 2011 departure of BYU and Utah to BCS conferences, as well as the 2012 departure of TCU.
BCS schools, meanwhile, are bound to notice the job that Hoke's done.
"The only thing I'd say to that is, I don't think about that stuff," Hoke told FanHouse on Wednesday. "I think about the 17 seniors, and the great job that we have here, and this community, and what we want to do for San Diego State."
SDSU recently extended Hoke's contract through 2015 in an apparent response to word that University of Minnesota officials had come to San Diego to gauge Hoke for their job opening. The Gopher hired Jerry Kill, the Northern Illinois coach and one of Hoke's former rivals in the Mid-American Conference.
It's a Big Ten school far more prestigious than Minnesota, however, that would be able to make Hoke an offer he likely couldn't refuse. Hoke was a longtime University of Michigan assistant, and if Michigan were to fire coach Rich Rodriguez and offer the job to Hoke, no one in San Diego would expect him say no to his beloved Maize and Blue.
But, for the time being, Ann Arbor will not be Hoke's next stop. He's headed to Palm Springs for a brief vacation. There, he can ponder the rise of an Aztecs program that only three seasons ago lost to New Mexico, 70-7.
"Coach Hoke came in and set the standard," Brown said. "You set the bar high and expect nothing less."
"He bought into us without even knowing us," said senior defensive end Ernie Lawson. "When he did that, it made it a lot easier to buy into him."