College football | San Diego State: Defense regrouping after opener

By THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH  • 
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With nine starters returning, defense wasn’t expected to be an issue for San Diego State. But after one game, it is. 

In a 40-19 loss to Eastern Illinois of the Football Championship Subdivision, San Diego State gave up 533 yards and the most points they had allowed since a 52-40 loss at Fresno State on Sept. 29.

“I think it had to do a lot with the lack of focus coming in,” said senior safety and captain Nat Berhe, who led the team with 94 tackles in 2012. “On the defensive side of the ball, we came in and we thought it was going to be easy. That’s our fault.”

The Aztecs struggled to pressure Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes. Garoppolo wasn’t sacked once, nor officially hurried. 

“That’s not good,” junior defensive lineman Cody Galea said. “We need to do that. We had a few hits, but that only rattles him for that drive, it doesn’t rattle him for the rest of the game.” Last season, San Diego State’s front seven proved effective at rattling quarterbacks, finishing 25th in the country with 33 sacks. “Execution, intensity, you can say a bunch of different things,” Galea said. “You can make excuses, but it’s just flat out we didn’t do it.”

For Galea’s group, it won’t have ample time to adjust, facing No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes had 40 points and 460 yards in a win last week over Buffalo.

“They’re a fast-paced offense and they have one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Berhe said. “We know that. They have some really fast, skilled guys. They’re big up front. We have to be physical, play our game, play really fast and execute.”

To slow junior quarterback Braxton Miller, Galea again put the emphasis on getting pressure.

“He’s a good quarterback, but they’re all the same,” he said. “If you hit them enough times they’re not going to play as well. You just have to get there.”

The Aztecs will be hampered by injuries. Linebacker Derek Largent, who was second on the team in sacks last season with 6.5, will miss the next two to four weeks because of a knee-ligament injury suffered against Eastern Illinois.

“He’s a really good player, so when you lose a really good player, it not only hurts how you play, it hurts your depth,” coach Rocky Long said. “Other guys have to play more snaps and their effectiveness is going to be hurt.”

Berhe, for now, is keeping it simple.

“We have to get everybody on the same page,” the senior said. “We can’t do our own thing out there. We have to stick to the game plan and execute.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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