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MWC notebook: San Diego State has turned things around under Hoke

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 10:22 a.m. MDT

Maybe — just maybe — San Diego State has turned things around.

Under the direction of second-year head coach Brady Hoke, the Aztecs are 3-1 and off to their best start since 1981. They have won three non-conference games in a season for the first time since 2003.

SDSU's only defeat was a heartbreaking loss at Missouri. But one of the signs that the Aztecs have improved is they didn't have a letdown the following week — last Saturday against Utah State — earning a convincing 41-7 victory.

"Our players did a nice job being ready to play," Hoke said. "I give our coaching staff a lot of credit for getting those guys ready."

SDSU has been impressive on both sides of the ball. The Aztec offense, ranked No. 7 in the nation in total offense and No. 18 in scoring, have surpassed the 400-yard mark in every game. Freshman running back Ronnie Hillman ranks No. 6 in rushing, averaging 133 yards per game, while quarterback Ryan Lindley averages a league-high 293 passing yards per game.

Defensive coordinator Rocky Long has done wonders with San Diego State's defense, which ranks No. 12 in scoring defense and pass efficiency defense, No. 21 in rush defense and No. 27 in total defense.

"We're playing together more on defense," Hoke said. "We obviously understand the system better than we did a year ago and guys are being very accountable to each other."

The Aztecs have a bye this week before traveling to BYU next Saturday.

RIVALRY WEEK: While TCU defeated crosstown rival SMU last week, several Mountain West Conference teams face non-conference rivals this week: BYU visits Utah State; Navy travels to Air Force; UTEP meets New Mexico; and Nevada takes on UNLV.

LOSING STREAK SNAPPED: Colorado State finally ended its 12-game losing streak with a 36-34 win over Idaho last week. It was the Rams' first victory since Sept. 19, 2009, when CSU beat Nevada in Fort Collins. That 12-game losing streak was the third-longest in the nation behind Western Kentucky (24) and Eastern Michigan (16).

"That type of win is such a good lesson," said CSU coach Steve Fairchild. "The defense made a play when they had to. The offense made a play when they had to."

FIRST WIN: In a battle of winless teams, UNLV downed New Mexico, 45-10, last Saturday. It marked not only the Rebels' first victory, but also the first at the school for first-year head coach Bobby Hauck.

TRUE FRESHMEN QBS: Seven football programs around the country are starting true freshmen quarterbacks. Three of them play in the MWC — BYU's Jake Heaps, CSU's Pete Thomas and New Mexico's Tarean Austin.

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com

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