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UCLA Football Preview: San Diego State Coaching Staff Has Bruin Connections

Also, the Aztec special teams were very busy last week against Weber State.

Weber State v San Diego State
Matt Araiza scored all six of the Aztecs’ points against Weber State.
Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images

Let’s begin our previews of the UCLA Bruins’ next opponent, the San Diego State Aztecs, with a look at the coaching staff and the special teams. Let’s explore the coaching staff first.

Coaching Staff

The San Diego State coaching staff definitely has a bit of a Bruin flavor to it. That’s because head coach Rocky Long served as UCLA’s defensive coordinator for Bob Toledo’s first two seasons at UCLA in 1996 and 1997 before he accepted the head coaching job at his alma mater New Mexico in 1998.

Long has succeeded at getting the Aztecs to a bowl game in all eight seasons he’s been at the helm at San Diego State and three of his San Diego State teams finished their seasons with at least ten wins, although the Aztecs were just 6-6 last season.

The Aztecs’ offensive coordinator is Jeff Horton. Horton was promoted to offensive coordinator following the retirement of former Bruin head coach Bob Toledo in 2014. He also coaches the SDSU running backs. He’s done a very good job coaching the backs as he has coached an Aztec running back to All-Mountain West honors in each of his eight seasons at SDSU. So, expect Horton to force UCLA to show they can stop the run.

While Zach Arnett is now in his second season as the team’s defensive coordinator, he’s in his sixth season coaching the Aztec linebackers. Over the past five years, the San Diego State defense has been ranked in the top 11 in the nation in seven different categories including first in the nation in interceptions. UCLA better hope that Joshua Kelley is healthy enough to run the ball past the Aztecs stout run defense, which is ranked sixth over the past five years, that way Dorian Thompson-Robinson doesn’t end up completing more passes to SDSU defensive backs than to his own receivers.

Some other notes on the San Diego State coaching staff. Former UCLA backup quarterback Ron Caragher is the team’s tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Caragher had been the head coach at the University of San Diego from 2007 until leaving to take the San Jose State head coaching gig in 2013. Former SDSU and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has returned to the Aztecs as the team’s defensive line coach.

Finally, Arena Football fans will recognize the name of the Aztecs’ wide receiver coach. Arena Football Hall of Famer and former Arizona Rattler Hunkie Cooper is now in his fifth season coaching the Aztec receivers.

Special Teams

Last week, the San Diego State Aztecs won their game against Weber State by a score of 6-0 on a pair of field goals by redshirt freshman Matt Araiza, who made both of his attempts against the Wildcats. While it was the first action of his career for San Diego State, Araiza did kick a career long 53-yard field goal In high school. There just isn’t enough of a track record to say how influential Araiza could be for the Aztecs this weekend. Araiza also handled kickoffs for the team.

It appears that San Diego State’s offense struggled against Weber State. That’s because senior punter Brandon Heicklen punted nine times in the game for 441 yards. If UCLA’s defense is able to out Heicklen on the field as much as Weber State did, the Bruins should be able to win.

Sophomore running back Jordan Byrd returned four of the five punts that the Aztecs returned. His longest return was for eight yards and he had 25 punt return yards for the game. Junior safety Tariq Thompson returned SDSU’s fifth punt for three yards.

The conclusion is that, so far this season, the Aztecs’ special teams hasn’t really done much outside of providing the team’s only points against Weber State and that bodes well for a Bruins team looking to rebound from a loss to Cincinnati.

Go Bruins!