You can fall asleep with a 28-point lead and let a beaten opponent start to believe.
You can rack up all the dumbass penalties in the world, from popping guys five yards out of bounds to pulling facemasks on key stops to killing drives with offensive PIs.
You can make a Mid-American Conference backup quarterback look like an All-American starter by giving up big plays and key conversions through the air.
You can do all these things and still win on the road – so long as you have D.J. Pumphrey on your football squadron. Hell, you can even cover the spread.
Pumphrey’s latest heroics – 23 carries, 220 yards and three long touchdowns – allowed SDSU to survive against Northern Illinois on Saturday. The 42-28 margin looks convincing-ish, but the Aztecs were fortunate the game didn’t get away from them when you consider everything they did badly or wrong in the second half.
But you know what? Screw the downside. It’s a huge road win. When you’ve won 13 in a row you’re going to have a few like this mixed in.
Where to begin?
Yes, that will do. This was Pumphrey’s second consecutive game with more than 200 yards and three scores, which is good. He opened the scoring with an electrifying 46-yard scamper in the first quarter. Here’s how it looked on CBS Sports Network’s amazing broadcast:
Fortunately, D.J. saved his best for last, scoring twice in the second half to help the Aztecs open up a two-score cushion. The first was a 33-yard burst where Pumphrey squeezed untouched through about 10 inches of daylight that opened up in the middle of the line. Then came the 79-yard run with 7:40 to play where I thought for a moment he was going to do a Tecmo Bowl zig-zag at the goal line to run out the remaining clock.
I missed the Faulk era at State by a few years, but I hear the reverence in the voices of the Aztecs fans who watched him play. We will all speak in the same tones about Pumphrey someday, that’s obvious now.
In the meantime, just enjoy watching this. It’s … not normal.
Some stuff that was less enjoyable
This was maybe not the most intelligent game SDSU has ever played.
One week after causing costly flags to fly against Cal, the Aztecs were penalized 11 times for 107 yards. And the miscues came at key times, too – none more so than an inexplicable facemask penalty committed by Randy Ricks to turn a 4th and 18 into a first and goal. NIU scored three plays later to cut the lead to 35-28.
There but for the grace of Pumphrey, man.
Also concerning: The Aztecs secondary was torched for big plays for the second week in a row. This time, instead of it coming at the hands of a stud QB like Davis Webb, the torching was applied by a rando MAC backup who mysteriously emerged from an Illinois cornfield less than a week ago, probably.
Ryan Graham, the animated scarecrow in question, passed for 221 yards and three touchdowns, and playmaking tormentor Kenny Golladay (which sounds like a species of marsupial) gave the Aztecs defense fits in both rushing and receiving.
So yeah, there’s some stuff to tighten up during the bye before South Alabama II: The Reckoning. If only we had a salty head coach who specializes in defense and preaches tough-minded discipline.
Speaking of dumb, here’s a thing some jackass blogger said with the Aztecs facing a 4th and 2 at the NIU 5:
Did Rocky Long take this sage advice? He did not. How foolish of him.
LOL never mind.
Then leading 21-0, the Aztecs could have tried to grind the clock before halftime. Instead, offensive coordinator Jeff Horton dialed up a deep ball and Christian Chapman found Mikah Holder from 33 yards out.
Up big early, the Aztecs could have gone conservative. Rocky and his staff kept the pedal to the metal. Damn good thing they did.
Some kind words for a punter
Any time you see a punter mentioned on this blog, there’s an 85 percent chance it’s because of either a fumbled snap or a jackass Instagram post. This is the other 15 percent.
Tanner Blain! In a taut game with a leaky Aztecs defense, that was absolutely massive. That performance was basically the punting equivalent of rushing for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
Can’t wait to see the “Blain For Guy” banner they unfurl at Zura Hall tomorrow!
The Aztecs are off next week before heading to Mobile to face the South Alabama Jaguars on Saturday, October 1, kickoff/TV TBD.