The Coast News Group

Jay Paris: Chapman’s challenge: lifting SDSU to the Mountain West summit

Mum was the word for San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman.

Freshmen lips don’t move under coach Rocky Long’s rules and that’s that.

Thing is, few requested Chapman, of Carlsbad High, before this week.

But this week, with the Aztecs (9-3, 8-0 Mountain West) facing visiting Air Force Academy (8-4, 6-2) on Saturday for the conference title, is different.

Long’s gut says so.

“It’s more like the first game of the year,” he said. “I get real nervous and my stomach hurts.”

Back to Chapman, a redshirt freshman and two-time All-Avocado League pick at Carlsbad. He’s under center for SDSU as starter Maxwell Smith’s twisted knee bent the depth chart toward the ex-Lancer.

Before getting hurt the senior Smith was a picture of precise. He hadn’t thrown an interception in 10 straight games.

But in the season’s biggest game, with the streaking Aztecs aiming for their 20th conference title, the 6-foot, 200-pound Chapman is on the spot.

And Long is in the know.

I’m sure that the game plan will be simplified from what it was when Maxwell was in there,” he said.

Tough to get more basic than sticking the ball in D.J. Pumphrey’s midsection. He’s the lead rusher in a stable of many as the Aztecs bury foes via cleat marks on defender’s backs.

SDSU, winners of eight in a row, was spotless in MW play because of its pounding running game and suffocating defense.

Heaving the ball is the collegiate rage, but for now, it’s not for Long.

The Montezuma Mesa men zoom by on the down-low. SDSU has rushed for at least 200 yards in eight consecutive games for the first time in its Division I history, which dates to 1969.

When you’re born to run, that diminishes the load plopped on Chapman’s shoulder pads.

“As long as the running game is going, he will be fine,” Long said. “The good thing about offense as opposed to defense is that when you do something well, you continue to do it. You don’t have to change the game plan from week to week when it’s working.”

Chapman isn’t a Smith replica, with Smith more comfortable in the pocket. Chapman isn’t shy about tucking the football and taking off.

In fact, Chapman isn’t reserved about much anymore.

“I thought he looked really confident in the game last Saturday, he didn’t seem like he was nervous,” said Long, after Chapman went 6 for 9 for 44 yards and added 29 rushing. “I thought he made a lot of good decisions. When he didn’t think he could get the ball in there he scrambled with it.”

Chapman quickly gained his teammates’ trust.

“He did very well, being thrown into the fire like that with it being a big game, Senior Night and one of your fellow quarterbacks go down (with an injury),” right guard Darrell Greene said. “He came in and handled himself and called the plays well. When he was asked to pass the ball, he did pretty well. I saw him complete a couple of big passes. He did a good job of controlling the huddle and running the offense.”

Greene, SDSU’s top offensive linemen, expects more of the same.

“Running the ball is very important to our offense and it’s just another person at the helm calling the plays,” Greene said of Chapman. “We have to run the ball to win and that’s what we are going to try and do.”

Let others reinvent the offensive wheel. The Aztecs roll by hugging the Jack Murphy Field turf.

“We have to be able to run it and use play-action pass,” Long said. “But the game plan doesn’t change.”

Just the quarterback.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.