Well it’s finally here. The game San Diego State football fans have had on their minds since Jan. 11, the day Brady Hoke was named as Michigan’s head coach.
The game everybody except the SDSU football team has wanted to talk about for the last nine months.
The game that will receive more media attention than any other Aztecs game this season.
So much can be said about SDSU’s game against the Wolverines on Saturday. It’s been circled on calendars and been in the back of the minds of everybody on Montezuma Mesa for a while now.
The Aztecs are traveling to “The Big House” only to see the man they once called coach, Hoke, on the other sideline. This is the main storyline in a game that is chock-full of them.
Last year, Hoke led the Aztecs to their first winning season since 1998 and a Poinsettia Bowl victory. It was the first bowl win in 41 years for SDSU.
Hoke, 52, seemed to have the start of something promising with the program, until he was offered his dream job at the University of Michigan.
The former Aztecs coach spurned his team in favor of the maize and blue and is now seen as a perfect fit in Michigan.
Hoke brought five of his assistants from SDSU with him to Ann Arbor.
One of the assistants who didn’t leave was Hoke’s defensive coordinator, Rocky Long, who decided to take control of the head coaching position Hoke left vacant.
Looking back at how the situation unfolded, Long said there are no bitter feelings between the team and Hoke.
“After the initial shock of him leaving, I think the players were happy for him too. I don’t think there’s any vendetta, I don’t think there’s any bad feelings,” Long said. “I think our team is excited about playing them, but I don’t think it has anything to do with coach Hoke. I think they’re excited about playing because they’re playing a top-25 in a great big stadium.”
Although Hoke may be the main storyline, he won’t be lacing up a pair of cleats or donning the famous Wolverine winged helmet.
Coaches coach and players play. It’s something that has been echoed by the team throughout the week.
When asked what he’ll think when he sees his former coach on the opposite sideline, senior quarterback Ryan Lindley was quick to note that he will be paying attention to Michigan’s players, not its coach.
“I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a head coach on the other team,” Lindley said. “I think you’re always checking out the 11 guys on the other side of the ball. You’re looking at people with helmets on, not anybody else.”
Someone who will be wearing a helmet on Saturday for Michigan is junior quarterback Denard “Shoelace” Robinson.
Robinson is one of the most electrifying playmakers in all of college football and is capable of slapping 400 yards of total offense on a defense with ease.
Shoelace totaled 4,272 yards of total offense last year, and has been putting pressure on opposing teams with his arm and legs so far this season.
It’s impossible for the Aztecs to practice for what they’ll see in the game from Robinson.
At his weekly press conference Long gave insight into how hard it is to prepare for such a multi-faceted signal caller.
“You can’t (simulate it),” Long said. “He might be the fastest football player I’ve ever seen in a football uniform. He’s as fast as any guy I’ve ever seen on a field. He plays really fast.”
SDSU would rather have Robinson try to beat them with his arm, not his legs.
No matter how he chooses to attack the Aztecs’ defense, assignment football will be critical in order to stop Shoelace.
“You have to bottle him up,” senior linebacker Miles Burris said. “You can’t give him too much space, he’s just so explosive and quick and dynamic. Everybody has to do their job on every given play and make sure that they execute.”
Robinson won’t be the only exciting player to take the field on Saturday.
SDSU has an electrifying playmaker of its own, sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman, who ran for 191 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s win against Washington State.
Hillman has started to get some Heisman Trophy buzz as of late and currently ranks second nationally, averaging 165.7 rushing yards per game.
Even though the sophomore tailback won’t be playing directly against Robinson, Hillman is ready for the chance to compete against the Michigan quarterback.
“It should be fun,” Hillman said. “A showcase of athletes. He’s a good player and I’m a good player. He’s going to try to help his team win and I’m going to try to help my team win. It’s a competition, that’s what this game is about.”
Hillman will most likely see his usual heavy workload on Saturday.
Hillman’s former coach expects Hillman to give his new team trouble.
“Ronnie’s a pain in the ass,” Hoke said in a previous interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Playing against former coaches and a star quarterback in one of the most hallowed stadiums in all of college football, in front of 110,000 people, would be enough to make any player emotional.
But being overemotional and too hyped up is something the Aztecs will try to avoid.
Even though this game might feel like it’s bigger than any other game, SDSU’s best chance at winning will likely be if it treats the contest like every other and tries to play its best football.
Hillman knows it will be key for him and the rest of the team to play within themselves and not try to do too much during the course of the game.
“I just try to go out and play it like a regular game,” Hillman said. “I don’t want to get too excited and get too emotional. You have to play levelheaded and just go out there and play.”