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Tuesday, December 27, 2005 | As you sit back and watch Thursday night’s 28th annual Pacific Life Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium, look closely for your first glimpse of San Diego State in 2006.
Oklahoma, the guys in crimson and cream, will be operating from an offensive scheme that new San Diego State football coach Chuck Long directed the last four years as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator when Oklahoma (7-4) faces Oregon (10-1).
Long’s offense may not look exactly the same when dressed in red-and-black jerseys on Qualcomm’s turf next fall, but you’ll get an idea.
I asked Oklahoma senior starting right guard Chris Chester – a California kid from 90 minutes up Interstate 5 in Tustin – what he’d tell SDSU’s players to expect from Long as their new head coach.
“Scoring,” he said. “I don’t know what you did last year, but you’re going to be able to score touchdowns. He’s a real offensive genius; he’s offensive minded.”
Oklahoma opened the 2005 season challenged by the loss of quarterback Jason White, the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner and a 2004 Heisman finalist; the loss of three offensive linemen; and injuries to sophomore running back Adrian Peterson, a Heisman finalist in 2004, who missed all or part of four games.
But after a 2-3 start, the Sooners improved to win five of their last six games. They averaged 31.0 points a game despite playing with a redshirt freshman quarterback, Rhett Bomar, and a true freshman receiver, Malcom Kelly, who led the team in catches and yards.
“He’s a great coach who has helped my development, and it’s only been two years,” Bomar said. “Everything has changed drastically from my true freshman year to now.”
The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder completed 150 of 278 passes for 1,789 yards and had even touchdown-to-interception ratio of nine to nine. Keep in mind when Bomar credits Long for his rapid progress, he didn’t exactly arrive in Norman as a lump of clay. He had some polish of his own.
Bomar was named the Outstanding Quarterback the EA Elite 11 Camp in 2004 – the prestigious invitation-only camp for high school quarterbacks – the summer before his senior year at Grand Prairie (Texas) High. After the season he was the starter for the West in the U.S. Army High School All-American Bowl.
“I can’t tell you any one particular thing he helped me with,” he said. “It was more the overall feel for playing quarterback. He knows what to expect and how to recognize what’s coming at you. He’s kind of your eyes when you come to the sidelines. He’s good at explaining those things – that’s one of his qualities.”
Kelly, a 6-4, 204-pounder, caught only 26 balls for 392 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. That may not sound like much by San Diego State standards, but Kelly was an 18-year-old freshman who had to grow into the leading receiver role, starting only six games.
Oklahoma also compensated for its inexperience at quarterback and the receivers by throwing 306 passes compared to 486 running plays behind Peterson, an established All-American back.
“He loves to pass the ball,” Kelly said. “Before Adrian came here, Oklahoma threw the ball a lot. He’ll open up the passing game if it works to the strength of the offense. He finds different plays that work for each one of his players. For me, it’s the deep ball. Then he makes it all gel and come together in a game plan.”
Oklahoma assistant coach Darrell Wyatt, the passing game coordinator and receivers coach, worked closely with Long in shaping Oklahoma’s offense and may be joining Long’s SDSU staff as the offensive coordinator. Wyatt has previously served as an offensive coordinator at Kansas, passing game coordinator at Oklahoma State and receivers coach at Baylor and Wyoming.
Wyatt continued in his role for the Sooners’ Holiday Bowl preparations, but NCAA rules limited Long to an observer’s role once Sooners head coach Bob Stoopes moved to fill a vacancy on the staff by hiring former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel as his quarterbacks coach. Kevin Wilson assumed the offensive coordinator duties.
SDSU associate athletic director Dave Powroznik, a former USC and San Dieguito High quarterback, watched Oklahoma practice at the Aztecs’ facility and has talked with Long at length. He expects Long to adapt quickly to SDSU’s returning players as well as on the recruiting trail.
“He knows recruiting here has been a positive the last three years and (former head coach) Tom Craft did a good job of building the program up from where it was to where it is now,” Powroznik said. “He’s ready to take it to the next level. He’s impressed by the kids and the coaching from the staff that was here. You can see that by him keeping a couple of them (assistant coaches Thom Kaumeyer and Brian Stark).”
Perhaps no Oklahoma player elucidates Long’s value as a recruiter more than Chester, an alumnus of Orange County’s Tustin High.
“When he recruited me, I didn’t know much about Oklahoma,” Chester said. “He came out of nowhere, but he seemed like a genuine guy. A lot of guys recruit you like they’re a car salesman and almost try to trick you into coming.”
Chester, who quickly shed his pads after a practice Montezuma Mesa, paused and looked around as he soaked up the San Diego sun.
“I was a UCLA and Pac-10 guy,” Chester said. “If he can recruit a California guy like me to Oklahoma, he can recruit guys to a beautiful place like San Diego State.”
Tom Shanahan is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at