SAN DIEGO — When it comes to interceptions, San Diego State's defensive backs are similar to unlucky fishermen.
The SDSU secondary doesn't have any interceptions in three games, but its members are good at talking about the ones that got away.
Free safety Harold Hicks figures he should have four interceptions by now. Cornerbacks Mario Mitchell and Clarence Nunn and strong safety Steve Lauter all have had a pass escape their grasp.
"As far as talent goes, it's there," Mitchell said. "It's a matter of executing--and quit dropping interceptions."
Last Saturday the Aztecs faced UCLA quarterback Matt Stevens, who threw five interceptions his previous game against Oklahoma.
Stevens' first pass against SDSU was dropped by Lauter, who said he was covering a receiver running a curl pattern. SDSU did not have any interceptions against Stevens.
Mitchell still gets kidded about a play the week before against Utah. He had a potential interception hit his face mask.
"Speaking for the group, we won't have any more dropped interceptions," Hicks said. "We've dropped a lot of balls we could've had. I could've had at least four. I misjudged two, dropped a tip and another one I could've had may have been out of bounds."
Last season, turnovers knew no bounds with the Aztecs.
At one point, SDSU had 19 turnovers to the opposition's two during a five-game losing streak. The Aztecs committed 38 turnovers last year, 17 more than their opponents.
It's been more of the same this season. SDSU has committed eight turnovers, compared to two for its opponents.
Linebacker Randy Kirk had an interception against Long Beach and lineman Chris Kilby recovered an errant pitchout against UCLA.
The defensive backs are 0 for 1986 in creating turnovers.
"We have to be more consistent as far as making big plays," Mitchell said. "We can't have one big play, two all-right plays, then another big play. We have to make three big plays and give the ball back to the offense."
Going into the season, SDSU's secondary was supposed to be a strong point.
Three of the players are returning starters--Lauter, a senior; Nunn, a junior; and Mitchell, a sophomore. Hicks, who played at Pasadena City College in 1985, was rated the nation's second-best community college player by one major scouting service.
"It's kind of funny," Nunn said. "We have the talent back there. We have four guys that you know and we know can play. We have to get the job done. We've been in position to make the plays. We just haven't done it yet."
Ron Mims, SDSU's secondary coach, said he has been more disappointed than frustrated by his unit's performance.
Mims thinks part of the problem may be that the Aztecs are playing a different system under first-year Coach Denny Stolz.
"Some of the things we are doing are still new to them, plus they still haven't played together as a unit for a given period of time," Mims said. "I think we'll start getting on the right track now. You're going to have highs and lows in every walk of life. Right now, we are at the crux of a low. They know and I know that they should play better--and they will."
Another problem has been the condition of Nunn, who had to leave early each of the past two games with a twisted ankle.
In Nunn's absence, the Aztecs gave up two critical long passes against UCLA from Stevens to Willie Anderson.
Anderson caught a 50-yard pass at SDSU's two-yard line early in the second quarter, setting up a touchdown that gave UCLA a 17-7 lead. With 13 seconds left in the half, Anderson caught a 40-yard touchdown, giving the Bruins a 31-7 lead.
Nunn's replacement, freshman cornerback Lyndon Earley, was involved on both plays. Each time, Earley was supposed to slow down the receiver at scrimmage. Hicks, playing on the hash mark, was supposed to help out on deep coverage.
"It was a matter of (lack of) execution on our part," Mims said. "Sometimes, you learn a valuable lesson the hard way. If you do something within our level of progression, you should make that play. I pointed out to Harold Hicks that I could've run a streak by him."
Each game, opposing receivers have been streaking past the Aztecs with increasing success.
Long Beach averaged 4.5 yards per play on 53 passing attempts. Utah averaged 7.1 yards per play on 29 passing attempts. UCLA averaged 10.3 yards per play on 13 passing attempts.
"We haven't reached our potential, that's for sure," Lauter said. "We have four of the best athletes in the nation. Things aren't clicking yet. They will, though. I look forward to that day."