Back in 2008, when the final buzzer sounded and the last firework went off at Qualcomm Stadium on San Diego State's opening night against Cal Poly, there were no smiles. There weren't laughs, hugs, jokes or happiness. At best, there was head-hanging and at worst, there were football players in tears. SDSU had done the unthinkable, and lost to FCS Cal Poly, 29-27.
Senior quarterback Ryan Lindley was there. It was his first start at SDSU. And leading up to Saturday night, he swore that 2008 game wasn't on his mind.
But once his Aztecs rolled over the Mustangs, 49-21, in front of 34,384 at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday on SDSU's opening night, Lindley admitted he had carried a bit of weight on his shoulder from that loss four seasons ago.
"If you see somebody from Cal Poly on the street now, you get a little smile on your face," he said. "Coach (Rocky) Long said it to us, 'It's a little bit of a monkey off your back.'"
In the postgame press conference this time around, there were smiles and players were laughing. Senior linebacker Miles Burris even joked with Lindley about becoming SDSU's all-time career passing-touchdown leader.
After Cal Poly this time, everything was all good.
Lindley tossed four touchdowns and threw for 203 yards on 15 completions. Sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman pounded out 189 yards and two scores on 28 carries, all while battling cramps. SDSU held Cal Poly to less than 300 yards and pumped out nearly 500 yards on offense.
For Long's first game as head coach of the Aztecs, it was a pretty good way to start out the season.
"It was a great win, especially when you consider the history of the series," Long said. "The last two times, they've walked into the stadium and walked out with a win It was a big win, but we can get a whole lot better than we were tonight."
Johnson's injury update
When Long and the SDSU coaching staff asked Alec Johnson to move from guard to center this season, Long said they had to teach the naturally left-handed Johnson to snap with his right hand.
But when he left Saturday's game against Cal Poly with what Long said is a broken right hand, it appears Johnson will have to snap with his left hand if he wants to stay at his center position.
"They think he broke his hand, but he's going to be able to play," Long said. "If he can snap with his left hand, he'll get to play center."
Junior center Jimmy Miller filled in for Johnson while he was out. If Johnson can't snap with his left hand, Long said he could possibly slide over to the guard position.
All camp long, Dylan Denso had to hear about his receiving corps and how bad they were playing. But interview after interview, he swore they would be fine.
And it turns out he was right.
Denso and fellow receiver Colin Lockett combined for seven catches, 148 yards and three touchdowns against the Mustangs.
"We wanted to come out and let everybody know that you don't have to worry," Denso said. "This was a good game and a good place to start off the season. It's going to help with a lot of confidence."
Hillman said his big night wouldn't have been possible without the passing game taking pressure off him. And Lindley heaped even more praise on them at the postgame press conference too.
"They turned it on," the quarterback said.
The receivers caught seven balls, while the heralded tight end spot only caught five of Lindley's passes. Lindley's other three completions went to running backs Hillman and Walter Kazee.
McFadden goes offense
There were rumblings that All-Mountain West corner Leon McFadden would play a bit on offense this season, but during fall camp, he was nowhere to be found when Lindley was chucking passes.
But, to everybody's surprise, he took the field for three or four plays as a wideout on Saturday night and almost caught a deep ball from Lindley.
"We had a couple little things in the gameplan for him," Lindley said of McFadden. "He has some explosion too. As Colin (Lockett) continues to improve, we might not need to bring Leon over as much. It'll be a little wrinkle."
Lindley set the school's all-time career record for most passing touchdowns with 71 on Saturday night. Lindley made his 32nd consecutive start for the Aztecs. Lockett became the first Aztec to return a kickoff for a touchdown since 2008. SDSU has won seven consecutive home games against non-conference opponents.