Friday, December 16, 2011
New Orleans Bowl: SDSU vs. La.-Lafayette
By Kevin Gemmell
Louisiana-Lafayette is making its first bowl appearance in 41 years. Until last season, SDSU hadn't won a bowl game in 41 years. How's that for numerological coincidences? The Aztecs faced plenty of questions this season after Brady Hoke left for Michigan and former New Mexico coach/SDSU defensive coordinator Rocky Long took over. But Long has the Aztecs matching last year's regular-season record, which they capped with a 35-14 win against Navy. Louisiana-Lafayette, with new head coach Mark Hudspeth, is enjoying just its third winning season since 1995.
WHO TO WATCH: San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman is the No. 3 rusher in the country, averaging 138 yards per game. He averages 5.7 yards every time he touches the ball and has found the end zone 19 times on the ground. He’s one of the most dynamic runners in the country with a 99-yard rushing touchdown and a 71-yard receiving touchdown to his credit. He's explosive, shifty, and the comparisons to former SDSU great Marshall Faulk have been more than warranted.
WHAT TO WATCH: Long is one of the gurus of the 3-3-5 defense. The Aztecs will be put to the test by Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback Blaine Gautier, who has a very respectable 20 touchdowns to five interceptions. The extra safety will likely be tied up trying to cover tight end Ladarius Green (485 yards, seven touchdowns), who is a mismatch for most defenses at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds. SDSU’s defensive scheme is high risk, high reward. Louisiana-Lafayette can find the holes and beat the steady stream of exotic blitzes, there are points to be scored.
WHY TO WATCH: The opportunity for the rest of the nation to see Hillman play should be reason enough. He’s a bona fide NFL talent. Expect a relatively high-scoring affair with two explosive offenses. There are plenty of playmakers on both sides which should make this one of the more entertaining non-BCS bowl games.
PREDICTION: SDSU 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 24. From a pure talent standpoint, the Aztecs have the edge. An NFL-caliber running back and an NFL-caliber quarterback (Ryan Lindley) always make for a difficult backfield to defend. Playing in their home state will be a nice edge for the Ragin' Cajuns, who will have a clear advantage in crowd support. But that won’t be enough to stop all of SDSU’s weapons.