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November 20, 2012

Rocky Long

Q.  Rocky, looking pretty refreshed and ready to go.  What are your thoughts now heading into the next game?
COACH LONG:  I think that we've had a pretty good season to this point, and it could be a great season if we're able to win this weekend.  But after you watch Wyoming on film over the last four weeks anyway, they've really gotten to be a pretty good football team.
They're hot right now.  Their quarterback in the last three weeks has thrown for over a thousand yards.  He's thrown for 1 touchdowns.  He's completed almost 70 percent of his passes and he hasn't thrown an interception.  They're averaging about 34, 35 points a game over the last three weeks.  Obviously they're 3 and 0.  They haven't had a turnover.  They're 3 and 0 over the last three weeks.
So they've hit their stride.  They're hot, playing well on defense.  Their front seven is really playing well.  So it's going to be quite a challenge.  It would be nice to finish off the season the right way.  We're pretty excited about where we are.  But it would be a lot better if we won this last won.

Q.  If any of us were to sit in on film study with you looking at the defense versus Fresno State versus say the defense from the last game, what are the main differences, especially in the passing?
COACH LONG:  Well, I'll say that Wyoming is a lot more like Fresno State than anybody we've played since then.  So we have played against some spread formations and some teams that have used the spread against us, but Fresno is entirely a spread team and Wyoming is entirely a spread team.
Last week against UNLV they threw for 300 and I think almost 70 yards in the first half.  Quarterback threw for over 400 yards in the game.  We haven't played anybody like them since Fresno State.  So obviously we're nervous.

Q.  Do you know what to expect from your best defense?
COACH LONG:  I don't have any idea.  I mean I think we're playing with more confidence, and we're playing better than we did at that point in the season overall.  We're playing better than we did at that point in the season.  So you would expect us to play them better than we did Fresno.  But we haven't been challenged like that yet.

Q.  Rocky, coming into the season you lost a lot of key players from a year ago.  You probably didn't know exactly what to expect from this team, but now it's the first Aztecs team to ever have a chance to win a Mountain West Conference Championship.  What has been the thing that's stood out most to you about this team that they have surprised you or shown you this year?
COACH LONG:  I don't think I am surprised.  I mean I said right from the start of the season that we were going to be a good football team before it was over, but I didn't know when that was going to be.  I didn't know how good we were going to be right from the start.  I thought we were going to be a good football team before it was over, and it was all depending on how quick the line of scrimmage developed, offensive and defensive linemen.  Offensive linemen developed faster than the defensive linemen, but the last few weeks the defensive linemen have been playing pretty well so we've played better defense.

Q.  This team has shown they can play with some of the big schools, have two biggest wins in program history, Nevada and Boise State.  As a competitor, when you look at what's going on with conferences and people leaving the Big East, you guys want to play better teams and you see the teams, how do you react to that as a competitor, wanting to play the best teams?
COACH LONG:  I don't react.  I mean that's something completely out of my control and I don't worry about it.
But you can control who you play nonconference, and I would say playing Ohio State and Oregon State next year is kind of a step up.

Q.  Have you watched at all when these teams jump conferences?  I know you don't worry about it?
COACH LONG:  Do I watch?  Do I read it in the newspaper?  Yeah, I read it in the newspaper, yeah.

Q.  Do you have any thoughts on the teams switching conferences?
COACH LONG:  No.  I don't have any control and no say so, so why worry about it.

Q.  Do you have any control or say‑so on what San Diego State does?
COACH LONG:  None whatsoever.

Q.  So you wouldn't have an opinion on whether or not you would rather have BYU, Boise State and San Diego State back in the Mountain West as opposed to going to the Big East, if Jim Sterk were to sit you down and give you some input on that, what would your opinion be?
COACH LONG:  I don't have an opinion.  Whatever Jim decides to do or whatever works out is okay with me.  I'm too worried about winning this weekend to worry about any of that stuff.  That stuff's in the future.  I'm worried about trying to win this Saturday, and that's a whole lot more important than what all that other stuff that's going on.

Q.  Coach, how dangerous is this team?  I know you said they're a spread team.  You guys haven't faced a spread offense like that since Fresno State.  What are you the most worried about?
COACH LONG:  That we can stop the pass, or at least slow it down enough for us to win the game.
I think it's ‑‑ I actually think it's the two hottest football teams in the league playing against each other.  I mean they're hot.  And I think we've got a lot of momentum, too.  We've won six in a row.  They've won three in a row.  Both teams think they can play and both want to finish out the season the right way.

Q.  Why do you think it took them a while to get going?  They've won three in a row, but before that they struggled.
COACH LONG:  I think the quarterback got hurt, and he might have missed ‑‑ he missed part of a game that they could have won.  I think he missed a whole game because of an injury that they could have won.  And you know, you put those two wins in the books and all of a sudden they're bowl eligible or close to bowl eligible.  They've lost a lot of close games.  I don't know the stats.  I think they've lost five games and they've been within three points.  So if they'd have played a little bit better in those situations, we might be ‑‑ the teams might have the exact same record, too.  But right now they're playing at a very high level on both sides of the ball.
And the biggest difference I've seen is for the last three weeks they haven't turned the ball over.

Q.  What are you expecting from your defensive line?  Is that the area that you're really looking at trying to get going?
COACH LONG:  Now we're going to rehash history, but the only way to slow a spread team down is to have four guys up front that can stop the run and pressure the quarterback.

Q.  The Wyoming game last year, is that still fresh in your mind or are you using that as motivational?
COACH LONG:  We're not using it as motivation because it's a long, long time ago.  Obviously we've watched the film to see ‑‑ to try to realize what we did wrong and try to improve on it and watched on how they attacked us both on offense and defense to try to get a leg up.  But they're doing things differently than they did last year, just like we're doing some things differently than we did last year.

Q.  What kind of things are they doing differently?
COACH LONG:  I think they're running a lot more empty set or no back field sets than they did last year.  It's about 20 percent of the time they don't have a back in the back field.  So they're spreading you from side line to side line a lot more than last year.  They're not spending near as much time on zone replays as they did last year.  The quarterback does a great job of getting out of trouble and scrambling around, but he doesn't carry it quite as much as he did last year.

Q.  What's been the biggest difference between starting 2 and 3?
COACH LONG:  I think that ‑‑ I think that everybody's improved.  I think the offensive line played pretty good right from the start.  The defensive line is playing much better.  I said this before, the biggest difference in our team is our kicking game.  Our kickers are much better.  Our punters and our kickers are much, much better than they were earlier in the season, which leads to a lot of things.  Leads to field position as well as scoring.

Q.  Coach, it seems like they've struggled to stop the run.  Can you look at that and think that's like a loose hole or weakness?
COACH LONG:  No, because I think they're playing better on defense over the last three weeks.  That's why they're winning.  And in this league you can never get hung up on yardage given up against the run because you play some teams.  Now, we didn't play one of them.  But you play some teams in this league that their whole offense is running the boat.  We've played two of them so far.  Army and Air Force.  Their whole offense is running the ball.  And in our league New Mexico is like that too.  Now, we didn't play New Mexico, but Wyoming has played those kind of teams.
A good day against Air Force and those kind of teams is giving up 300 yards rushing.  That's a good day.  Where you add 300 yards rushing to your total three times a year and all of a sudden you're not a very good run defense statistically, where you might be a darn good run defense, but statistically you're not.

Q.  As the winning‑est coach in Mountain West Conference history, what do you think of this conference as a football conference?  Nationally it's a bit of an afterthought, but what are your thoughts on this conference?
COACH LONG:  I think this conference has always fought an image.  I think the football in this conference is a whole lot better than anybody gives it credit for, and it's totally by population centers.  There's no population centers with this conference or very few population centers that come with this conference, so you don't get the same viewer ship.  You don't have as many people watching, but this conference plays great football.  As good as a lot of the, quote, major conferences.

Q.  Do you think ESPN is bias towards the East Coast conference?
COACH LONG:  No.  I think all media has a bias to traditional conferences.  I think all media does.  I mean all you gotta do is look at the history of this league and Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.  Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  I mean you can go on and on.  And that never proved anything to the media because we're not a traditional conference.

Q.  Is there a point that you would look in the conference with maybe coach some schools with those population centers to maybe attract?
COACH LONG:  I mean you think I'm lying to you.  I don't think about any of that stuff.  I think about who's on our schedule and who we play.  I play whoever they tell me to play.

Q.  Coach, does conference affiliation affect recruiting at all?
COACH LONG:  Yes.  Yes, it does.  It doesn't matter how good of football you play, young men coming up have the same prejudice that the media does because they watch TV and they read the newspaper and they listen to the radio and they listen to all that.  So if the media has a prejudice to the traditional conferences, so will a young man that you are recruiting.

Q.  So you're saying that the conference has an effect on recruiting, you must have a preference as to what conference you would be in to help you recruit.
COACH LONG:  I mean that's the same deal.  We recruit the best player we can recruit no matter where we are.  You guys don't know my history.  You know where I've coached?  I mean I've coached at UCLA, too.  That's the easiest recruiting I ever did.  We offered to get a scholarship.  He said I'm coming.  Didn't have to answer any questions about education or travel or who you played or anything.  We got a scholarship for you.  I'm coming, coach.  I mean the people that don't have that advantage work a whole lot harder than the people that do have that advantage, by the way.

Q.  Your thoughts on becoming the winning‑est football coach in the Mountain West Conference.
COACH LONG:  I haven't thought much about it really.  I mean it just came up last week.  It means that I lasted longer than everybody else, I guess.

Q.  Somehow I knew that would be your answer.  If something were to drastically change and you guys were to go back to Mountain West, would you see that as having a negative impact on the kind of reputation you guys have?
COACH LONG:  No, because I don't think anybody ‑‑ you know this better than I do.  How many commitments we got?  There you go.  Thank you.  We got 16 commitments.  And you and I have the same list, I guess.  We have 16 commitments, and I don't think any of them committed to us because of our league affiliation.  I think they committed to San Diego State.

Q.  Were any of those conversations we'd like to offer you a scholarship?
COACH LONG:  No, not one of them.  We had to do a little sales pitch, yes.

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