The last time the San Diego State football team was in Hawaii, it was a quick turnaround. This week the Aztecs are soaking it all in.
San Diego State arrived in Honolulu last weekend for Thursday’s game against Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl. A few side trips have allowed coach Rocky Long’s team to enjoy some time sightseeing.
There was a luau one day, a visit to Pearl Harbor another, all the while taking in the sights and scenes of Waikiki beach.
“I always get (grief) from our players because we played in Hawaii this year,” said Long, who led the Aztecs (10-3) to the Mountain West title. “We flew over just in time to eat, we went to bed, we got up the next morning, did a walk-through, had a pre-game meal, went to the game and went home right after. We were probably here a total of about 24 hours.”
That was Oct. 10, when San Diego State defeated Hawaii 28-14 at Aloha Stadium — site of the Hawaii Bowl. The difference now is more time to enjoy Hawaii.
“It’s completely different,” Long said. “When you come here and eat a pre-game meal and leave right away you don’t even know you’re in Hawaii — and that was on purpose,” Long said. “I didn’t want them to get the flavor of Hawaii because I’ve been here and I’ve recruited here and I know how nice it was and I wanted them to be in game mode, so the bowl game is completely different.”
San Diego State went 8-0 in the MWC, and come into the game with nine straight victories. The Aztecs beat Air Force 27-24 in the conference championship game on Dec. 5.
Running back Donnel Pumphrey and cornerback Damontae Kazee were the league offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively. Pumphrey ran for 1,554 yards with 16 touchdowns and Kazee had 69 tackles and seven interceptions.
“Coach Long and his group have done a great job this year,” Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. “To run off that many wins you obviously have a very good football team that is very consistent — just the opposite of us. We’ve got a good team, but we haven’t been very consistent.”
The Bearcats (7-5) finished tied for third in American Athletic Conference East Division. Only once did they win back-to-back games.
Senior wide receiver Shaq Washington has 88 receptions for 971 yards and six 6 TDs, while linebacker Eric Wilson leads the defense with 103 tackles.
“I think the fans that come to the game and the ones that watch it on national television have an opportunity to see, on both sides, some very good athletes, some guys that can make plays,” Tuberville said. “Both teams are explosive in their own way.”
Both teams are dealing with issues at quarterback. Gunner Kiel, who has thrown for 2,777 yards and 19 TDs, did not travel with Cincinnati due to undisclosed personal reasons. San Diego State starter Maxwell Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Nevada last month. He says he’s going to try to play on Thursday.