Redskins

BYU, SDSU renew rivalry in Poinsettia Bowl

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BYU, SDSU renew rivalry in Poinsettia Bowl

SAN DIEGO (AP) Rocky Long and Bronco Mendenhall will leave it to the fans to get all worked up about the revival of the BYU-San Diego State rivalry.

Just two years after a botched review of an apparent fumble tainted what appeared to be the final game between the schools, the Cougars (7-5) and Aztecs (9-3) will meet in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night at San Diego State's home stadium, Qualcomm.

As much as SDSU fans loved to hate the Cougars during their rivalry in the Western Athletic Conference and then the Mountain West Conference, they really howled in 2010.

In an episode known as ``Replaygate,'' BYU running back JJ Di Luigi fumbled against the Aztecs in Provo and San Diego State coach Brady Hoke asked for a review. Officials ruled there was not enough evidence to rule it a fumble. BYU scored five plays later en route to a 24-21 victory.

Six days later, Mountain West Conference athletic directors decided to ban employees or alumni of the host school from serving in the communicator position in the instant replay booth. The three replay officials reportedly were suspended for one game.

SDSU fans didn't get over it, even though BYU bailed from the MWC to become independent in football. SDSU, which has won seven straight games, will leave the league after this season for the Big East in football only.

Still, Long and Mendenhall - who worked together on New Mexico's staff for five seasons - aren't interested in rehashing it.

``Oh yeah, it's ancient history,'' said Long, who was SDSU's defensive coordinator that day and was elevated to head coach after Hoke left for Michigan following that season. ``I don't worry about the fans. I only worry about the 100 guys we've got on the team.''

Said Mendenhall: ``I've already been asked that a number of times, with people saying this is a giant rivalry game and there's a vendetta, etc. Again, being at BYU I've learned there are a lot of axes to grind. I don't even remember the game, to be honest with you. I know Rocky's team will be ready to play. Hopefully, I can get our team ready as well. That's really what my focus is on.''

BYU leads the series 27-7-1 and has won five straight against the Aztecs.

Then there's the familiarity Long and Mendenhall have with each other. When Long was head coach at New Mexico, Mendenhall was his defensive coordinator from 1998-2002. Mendenhall also was defensive line coach at Oregon State in 1995 when Long was defensive coordinator.

``I don't think it makes a darn bit of difference,'' said Long, who led the Aztecs to a share of the MWC title with Fresno State and Boise State. ``Bronco and I are friends and we know each other very, very well. But Bronco's not making one tackle, he's not catching one pass. Guess what? He's not calling probably one offensive play. I'm not making a tackle. I'm not carrying the ball. I'm not calling one offensive play.

``When he first became the D coordinator at BYU, we could watch each other from the sideline and know exactly what defense was being run, because we used the same signals that meant the exact same thing,'' Long added. ``And by the time I read his signals there was no time to get it to the quarterback or the offense before the ball was snapped. So after the first year, I stopped watching him. So I don't even know what his signals are now. I'm sure they're different. So just because we know each other has nothing to do with the game. The guys you'll see here in a little while wearing jerseys around? They're going to decide who wins the game.''

Long and his 3-3-5 defense will have their hands full with BYU receiver Cody Hoffman, who had 90 catches for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. Long said the Aztecs have to prepare for both BYU quarterbacks, Riley Nelson and James Lark. Nelson likely will start. With Nelson out for the regular-season finale with a rib injury, Lark made his first start and completed 34 of 50 passes for 384 yards and six touchdowns, with no turnovers, in a 50-14 win at New Mexico State.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Hoffman had a school single-game record five TD receptions among his 12 catches for 182 yards against New Mexico State.

``There is a huge matchup on the outside between our corners and Hoffman, because he is so big and strong and fast,'' Long said. ``We've got a couple pretty good corners, but they're not as big and strong as he is.''

The Cougars, who allow only 84.3 yards rushing per game, will have to try to stop SDSU sophomore Adam Muema, who averaged 6.4 yards per carry in running for 1,355 yards and 16 touchdowns.

``He's very, very good,'' Mendenhall said. ``I've seen a number of tackles missed on him. If that part can be contained, relatively, then their point production goes way down. If we're not able to get him on the ground consistently, then they'll control the momentum of the game.''

BYU will be making its 12th bowl appearance in San Diego. The first 11 were in the Holiday Bowl, the big brother of the Poinsettia Bowl.

SDSU is playing in a bowl game for an unprecedented third straight year and will be trying for its first 10-win season since 1977. The Aztecs beat Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010 under Hoke and lost to Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans bowl last year, Long's first season in charge.

Hoke and then Long have changed the expectations of a once sad-sack program.

``I think we're at a critical point in our program now that it has to be expected, and if you don't get it, it's not acceptable,'' Long said about the three straight bowl appearances. ``I wouldn't have said that two years ago. Just getting to a bowl game was a big-time accomplishment.''

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10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

No. 5: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

No rookie draft pick excited the Redskins fan base like Derrius Guice since Robert Griffin III came to Washington back in 2012. That's a fact. 

Guice slipped during the draft to near the end of the second round, a position much too late for a player with his talent. Rumors emerged that he had character issues, but in the months since April's selection, they seem unfounded. In quick time, Guice has emerged as a Redskins fan favorite and has performed plenty of charitable acts.

So, moving past the erroneous off-field questions, it's time to manage expectations for what Guice can do on the field. 

DJ Swearinger recently said he expects Guice to make the Pro Bowl and rush for more than 1,000 yards. As a rookie. (Listen here)

That's not unheard of, last year rookie Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rush yards. In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott did the same thing. Rookie running backs can step in and produce right away in the NFL, unlike some positions that usually bring more of a learning curve. 

Can Guice do that?

The first and most important questions will be health and durability. Guice dealt with lingering knee injuries last year at LSU, and the Redskins will need him fully healthy. A 1,000-yard season is not unrealistic if Guice plays a full 16-game season. It would require rushing for about 65 yards-per-game. 

The bigger key is opportunities. 

How many carries will Guice log in 2018? Early on in the season, Guice might still be learning pass protection in the Redskins scheme, and Jay Gruden will not tolerate missed assignments that result in big hits on QB Alex Smith.

If Guice can lock in on blitz pickup, 200 carries seems reasonable. Remember that Chris Thompson will still be a featured part of the Redskins offense, and Rob Kelley will get chances too. 

Last season, Samaje Perine led all rushers with 175 carries. He didn't do much with the chances, averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry. Kelley had 62 carries before injuries shut his season down after parts of seven games. 

Combine Perine and Kelley's carries, and then things start to get interesting. With 230 carries, at an average of 4 yards a pop, Guice starts to approach 1,000 yards.

One problem with extrapolating too much data from last season is the crazy amount of variables. Late in the year, with Perine largely ineffective and a very beat up offensive line, the Redskins simply couldn't produce on the ground. In their last five games of 2017, the Redskins never rushed for more than 100 yards. They averaged just 60 yards-per-game on the ground during that stretch, including a season low 31 rush yards against Arizona in December. 

The line can't be that beat up again, right?

Guice has to be able to deliver more than Perine, right?

If the answers to those questions are yes, then a 1,000-yard season seems possible for Guice in 2018. 

One misnomer from the Redskins 2017 campaign emerged that Washington simply did not run the ball well or enough. In fact, early in the year when the Redskins looked like a possible playoff team, they ran the ball quite well. In three of the first four games, Washington went over 100 yards on the ground, including 229 rush yards in a Week 2 win over the Rams. 

Guice might get to 1,000 yards in 2018. It's no sure thing, and there are plenty of variables, but it's possible. That hasn't happened in Washington since Alfred Morris, and would be a very welcome sight. 

The rookie runner has invigorated the Redskins faithful, and that's before he even steps on the field. If Guice can produce, the fans will go crazy.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins and leadership, D-line potential

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins and leadership, D-line potential

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, July 21, five days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

How the addition of Alexander affects the Redskins' DB depth chart—Adonis Alexander was brought into the NFL about a week and a half ago and in five days he’ll be on the practice field in Richmond. How much will missing OTAs and minicamp hurt him in comparison to, say, his former Hokie teammate Greg Stroman? I think that the plan is for this to be a “redshirt” year for Alexander to learn. But that was supposed to be the plan for Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chase Roullier last year and both ended up playing key snaps. 

Can the Redskins defensive line live up to its potential? Many NFL fans don’t appreciate the value of having a good defensive line. Redskins fans are not in that group because they have seen what you get when you try to build a defensive line with over-the-hill veteran free agents, low draft picks, and undrafted players. Fans will value the talent, youth, and depth on the 2018 D-line.  

10 Questions in 10 days: LB depth chart—This is another area where the Redskins have not invested much in recent seasons. At least this year they stepped up and re-signed starters Mason Foster and Zach Brown. They are the present. Are Shaun Dion Hamilton and Josh Harvey-Clemons the future? 

The pass rush must continue to be a strength for the Redskins—With the picture at the cornerback position is somewhat murky right now, the pass rush will be critical, especially in the early going. The outside linebackers lost a key reserve, putting the burden on Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan to continue to get pressure on Ryan Anderson to take a leap forward in his second season. 

Tweet of the week

Well, this tweet did sort of stir things up as did some of the things that Cousins said in an article by Dan Pompei on the Bleacher Report. The thing about Twitter is that there is no room for nuance. I was labeled a Kirk “hater” by some. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. On multiple occasions, I urged the team to sign him long term and highlighted the positive aspects of his play. 

But this thing about not having a “platform” to lead always struck me as a cop-out. Cousins talked about it during some press conferences while he was here. The length of your contract should not prevent you from embracing a leadership role. You’re getting paid to lead, just do it. Few in leadership positions in business or in the military know where they will be a year from now. They embrace the role while they have it and Cousins should have done the same. 

The fact that I don’t like this one aspect of Cousins doesn’t mean that I don’t like him overall. He’s a good quarterback and I think he will have success with the Vikings. I think that the price got to be too much for the Redskins and the decision to move on to Alex Smith was sound or at least the best they could do after it became apparent that he was not going to sign here. But it’s not all one or the other. It is possible to see the positive and negative of Cousins. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

Timeline

Mike Sellers, whose seven receiving touchdowns in 2005 were the most by a Redskins running back since the merger, was born on this date in 1975.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 5
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 19
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 42

The Redskins last played a game 202 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 50 days. 

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