LAS VEGAS — The San Diego State football team has set a trend this season that has been so consistent, it could almost be scripted: start out sluggish in the first half, fall into an early hole, then turn on the jets in the second half and come out with the win in the end.
That’s exactly what SDSU did against UNLV on the road on Saturday night, holding the Rebels scoreless in the second half and scoring 31 unanswered points to leave Las Vegas with a 31-14 victory.
“We care and we try to address it every week,” head coach Rocky Long said about the slow start. “We talk about it all the time, we try to train it by the way we practice. I don’t know why, on defense that’s the way we’ve been all season. On offense that’s kind of a new phenomenon here in the last three or four weeks, so maybe they’re taking their lessons from the defense.”
Sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman brushed off a high-ankle sprain to rush for 192 yards and two touchdowns against UNLV, and surpassed 3,000 rushing yards for his career. Senior quarterback Ryan Lindley had a poor first half, going 5-for-14 with an interception before intermission, but tossed a couple of touchdowns to sophomore receivers Colin Lockett and Dylan Denso in the second half. Lindley also added another school record to his résumé, breaking Todd Santos’ career completions record.
But what really won the game for the Aztecs was their second half defense. Out of the 265 points SDSU has allowed this season, only 65 were allowed in the second half. On Saturday, the Aztecs only gave up 28 yards of offense after halftime and UNLV’s drives finished with a punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt and interception.
“It’s been the same story for 11 games now,” senior defensive lineman Larry Gibbs said. “It’s a really interesting story because nothing is said, nothing is changed, we just have to come out and play better. That’s all (Coach) tells us, and that’s exactly what we do.”
The victory gives the Aztecs a 7-4 record, and with Air Force beating Colorado State, the Mountain West now has five bowl-eligible teams for four bowl berths – making SDSU’s bowl picture even murkier with only one more game remaining against Fresno State.
“I don’t feel confident at all,” Long said. “I told some people at the beginning of the week I don’t think it matters if we’re 8-4, 7-5 or 6-6. I think it’s all the luck of the draw now.”