Tuesday, October 8, 2007 | Burning questions from a weekend that saw the Chargers and San Diego State win football games in the Rocky Mountain state that could turn around their seasons. The Chargers beat the Denver Broncos 41-3 and San Diego State defeated Colorado State 24-20.
Everyone overlooked the transition period to be endured with a new head coach, Turner, and new defensive coordinator, Ted Cottrell.
It was thought that the Chargers’ tightly knit locker room with superior leadership (who’s going to question what LaDainian Tomlinson, among others, has to say?) would smooth out the bumps in the road that come with changing coaches and tinkering with schemes and play calling.
But transition periods are all about a team’s coaches and players matching up in personality. It took longer to mesh than expected with the Chargers. Not all of the 2007 Chargers were here in 2001 with Tomlinson when Turner installed an offense the team continued to use when Turner left.
What encouraged Turner throughout the three-game losing streak was the team kept coming back from three losses and working hard in practice. Turner told his players Friday morning that the Thursday afternoon practice was the best of the year.
The first half of the Kansas City game two weeks ago confirmed what he was feeling as the Chargers led 10-0 and then 16-6 at halftime. But that was all forgotten after the second half.
It’s harder to sell angry fans on improvement when a team like the Chiefs comes back to win 30-16 and sink the AFC West favorites to 1-3.
Against Kansas City, quarterback Philip Rivers looked for tight end Antonio Gates, who was behind coverage, and aimed a pass his way. But he was hit as he threw and the ball was intercepted.
In a similar play at Denver, Rivers had plenty of time in the pocket and hit Gates for a 23-yard gain. Three plays later Rivers for a 7-0 lead and 11 seconds later Carlos Polk forced a fumble on the kick return that Brandon Siler returned for a touchdown.
This is an era of mass communication, and the ugly side in sports, ironically, is fans are even more provincial.
It’s not always about the coach not knowing what he’s doing or the players blowing assignments. Sometimes the other team just makes good plays.
But try telling that to fans in Chicago (1-4), New Orleans (0-4) and, hey, even Denver (2-3).
They can see two NFL quarterback prospects in one visit with University of San Diego senior Josh Johnson and San Diego State senior Kevin O’Connell.
Johnson has been attracting NFL scouts since his junior year, and now O’Connell, slowed by an injury last year, is doing the same.
There were at least a half-dozen scouts at the Cincinnati game, and they told SDSU head coach Chuck Long they liked O’Connell’s patience in the pocket and his ability to go through progressions under pressure.
He has an NFL body as a 6-foot-6, 235-pounder and he can run like a much smaller man. He scored all three of the Aztecs’ touchdowns in the win at Colorado State.
You won’t see a better play in the pocket than the one the La Costa Canyon High alumnus made Saturday at Colorado State when he completed a 57-yard pass to Brett Swain on third-and-10.
It was one thing that O’Connell was patient in the pocket. He also felt the pressure, somehow ducked under an attempted tackle from a blitzing linebacker and as he shifted left, he made his read and hit Swain.
O’Connell finished the scoring drive with a 1-yard dive. It’s the first time the Aztecs have driven 80 yards or more for the game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes since 1982.
Long, in his second year as the Aztecs’ head coach after six years as an assistant at Oklahoma, ranks it as “one of the top five in my career, for sure.”
Remember, this is a guy who coached a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, quarterback Jason White in 2003, and was on the Sooners’ staff when they won 2000 national championship.
If the Aztecs continue to win and qualify for a bowl game, it’s a play that will go down in San Diego State lore.
San Diego State football has suffered from petty factions undermining it during Tom Craft’s four-year tenure. O’Connell is a Craft recruit, but he is still a figure and calm personality that sells the program’s future. Darren Smith and Bill Werndl want him on XX, even when the station is being accused of shunning SDSU.
How SDSU finishes the season — they need four more wins for a bowl trip — will determine how long fans remember O’Connell’s play at Colorado State. NFL scouts only need to remember it until the draft in April.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to the editor.