SAN DIEGO — So what if San Diego State has lost its last two games while scoring 37 points each week. Burnie Miller has decided to look at the positive side.
"To me, those football games were as exciting as any in America," Miller said.
Therein lies the problem for Miller, SDSU's defensive coordinator. His job is to see that the Aztecs' games are not that exciting.
The Aztec defense has been creating a lot of unwanted excitement. Even Coach Doug Scovil said he can't believe his team has lost the last two weeks.
Jim Walden of Washington State is the only other Division 1 coach in America who can empathize with Scovil's plight of scoring that many points and losing. His team has lost to Oregon (42-39) and Utah (44-37).
SDSU's last two losses have been to Utah (39-37) and Oregon (49-37). However, those two teams usually aren't the offensive equivalents of Iowa or the Air Force Academy.
As misfortune would have it, SDSU plays high-scoring Air Force this week. It's not a comforting feeling for a defense that is suddenly looking very similar to that of the Chargers.
Not unlike the Chargers, SDSU's defensive personnel claim they have played better than their recent scores may indicate.
In the Utah game, SDSU's defense may have had a point. Utah's touchdown drives were 25, 28, 55 and 85 yards. The Utes also returned an interception for a touchdown and received two points when SDSU punter Wayne Ross fumbled a snap in the end zone.
However, other than a fumble return for a touchdown, the built-in excuses were not there in the Oregon game. Oregon had touchdown drives of 71, 64, 69, 80, 59 and 69 yards.
"It's hard to explain what happened," linebacker Todd Richards said. "Obviously, if we knew, we would have stopped them a little better. We'll have five or six good plays, then have a breakdown on the next play. We haven't gone a whole game without making crucial mistakes."
The crucial mistakes were numerous against Oregon, according to Miller. SDSU's pass rushers lost containment three times, and two of the plays resulted in touchdown passes. Two other touchdown passes occurred when SDSU had breakdowns on coverages. And Oregon had a 51-yard pass play on a second-and-28 when the Aztecs blew a zone coverage.
"What we had to do was simple; we just didn't do it," free safety Ellis Powers said. "Our coaches are getting a lot of bad write-ups, but we're the ones making the mistakes. Defensively, Coach Miller called a good game. We didn't execute and hurt ourselves by not doing what we were supposed to do."
Ellis' explanation was simple enough, but it poses another question. Why not execute properly?
"We seemed to lose intensity," Miller said. "It makes you mad. We blew some coverages we have worked on since Day One. If you get beat doing things like you are supposed to do them, you're not so bitter. Whether it was a lack of concentration or what, who knows?"
Lack of concentration appears to be one answer.
All season, the Aztecs have seemed to ease up on crucial third-down plays. The trend began when UCLA converted on 14 of 18 third-down plays against SDSU in the second game.
"We play well until third and long," lineman Chris Kilby said. "Then we have busted plays, and you can't do that. Everybody has an assignment. When one guy messes up, that's it."
Evidently, there has been plenty of messing up. SDSU's defense is allowing an average of 29.9 points and 425.1 yards per game. The Aztec offense has averaged 30.4 points and 446.2 yards per game.
Miller compared the situation to when he coached high-scoring, but weak offensive teams at Purdue. He said momentum and the opposition's execution can cause high-scoring games involving teams such as Purdue and SDSU.
Even so, there may be more to it than that. Lineman Greg Williamson said the element of surprise accounted for much of Oregon's offensive success last week.
"We thought Oregon would run a lot more than it did," Williamson said. "When they passed, it was a letdown for us. I don't think we practiced as much against the pass last week as we had before. I didn't think their quarterback would roll out as much as he did."
Miller attempted to roll with the punches, saying it was two good offenses against two sorry defenses.
Actually, Oregon had a sorry offensive total of zero points and 10 yards in the first quarter. But thereafter, the Ducks accounted for 49 points and 438 yards.
"You could see in the second quarter that we went from hustling and flying around to going through the motions," Miller said. "One thing I don't do is dodge any bullets. I tell 'em when they play well, and I tell 'em when they don't play well. As a defensive unit, we didn't play the Oregon game well."
Now, it is Miller's job to come up with solutions. The Aztecs will need them against Air Force.
Aztec Notes Webster Slaughter has been named the Western Athletic Conference offensive Player of the Week. Slaughter had 15 receptions for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns against Oregon. He is eighth on SDSU's all-time reception list with 92.