ANN ARBOR, Mich. --- No matter how much San Diego State tried to play it off all week, no matter how many times the players said this was just another game, and no matter how many times the fans and media believed them, when the whistles blew and the Michigan faithful filled up The Big House, this was clearly not another game for SDSU.
The Aztecs had never seen anything like the 110,707 blue-and-yellow-clad people screaming at them. They had never defended a player like Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson. And they had certainly never felt the emotion of playing against the man who turned them into winners, former head coach Brady Hoke.
And when it finally came time to put all of those excuses aside, SDSU couldn't do it, and fell 28-7 to No. 22 Michigan.
"If it wasn't just another game for our players, then our players made a huge mistake," said Long, who used a tone hinting that may have been the problem on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor. "Because when you let emotions get involved, sometimes you don't perform as well."
From the start, SDSU did anything but perform well. It went three-and-out on its opening drive, and then allowed Denard Robinson to run all over it for a Michigan opening-possession touchdown. Then, when the Aztecs blinked and Ronnie Hillman fumbled on their second drive, it was 14-0 before SDSU even had time to take in its Michigan Stadium surroundings.
"I thought we played a terrible first half," Long said. "We played poorly in the first half, so obviously I did a bad job coaching."
Long and the Aztecs seemed more concerned with Brady Hoke than they did with Michigan's football team. Instead of changing up their defensive signals with different hand gestures, the Aztecs decided to hold up pictures of all the coaches and staff that left SDSU for Michigan in order to signal in their defense. When they used those cards, SDSU was outscored 21-0. When the Aztecs ditched the cards and used regular hand signals in the second half, they tied with Michigan 7-7.
"We were laughing," Robinson said of the signs.
"That might have been part of the problem in the first half," Long added. "We tried to use pictures instead of signals and obviously we played much better on defense in the second half, so maybe that was part of the problem."
By the time SDSU's defense stopped worrying about Hoke's pictures, it was already 21-0. And when the Aztecs started bottling up Robinson, who had 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first half but just 60 yards and no scores in the second, it was too late.
Plus, quarterback Ryan Lindley was way off target, Hillman fumbled one more time and SDSU's offensive line struggled to block a basic four-man front.
"We didn't play very well," Long said. "If we had kept a couple drives alive, if we had thrown it a little bit better and caught it a little bit better, if we had thrown it on target a little bit better and kept some drives alive, we could have kept it close. But we didn't play well on either side on the ball. We didn't play well on offense in the first half, and defense was embarrassing."
When media members were looking for answers after SDSU's solemn defeat, there certainly weren't any coming out of the players' mouths.
But that's mostly because Long did not make his players available to the media after the game.
When he was asked why, Long responded, "Because I said so."
One player did speak out, however. Defensive lineman Larry Gibbs tweeted after the game: "Most disgusting feeling in the world right now..."
Lindley had one his worst games of his career on Saturday afternoon, hitting on just 48 percent of his 48 pass attempts. He also had a lost fumble and missed several "wide open" receivers on big plays, Long said afterward.
But Long also said the reason he struggled so much could have been because of his offensive line's play. The Aztecs' O-line only gave up one sack, but it had two holding penalties and could not keep pressure off Lindley all game.
"We had a hard time blocking," Long said. "Whenever a quarterback doesn't throw it very well, a lot of it has to do with pressure. It seemed like he was under pressure quite a bit today from the sidelines. I'll know better when I watch the film, but it seemed like he was throwing it a little bit early."
After the game, Michigan defenders said that was all part of the strategy. They knew if they crowded Lindley, he wasn't anywhere near where most rankings place him.
"We knew that if we got in his face and got pressure to him and pressed the pocket on him, he would get happy feet and would miss throws," Wolverine defensive lineman Mike Martin said.
"We were getting good pressure up the middle," Michigan defensive end Craig Roh added. "That rattled him a little bit. He didn't perform as well as we expected."
SDSU spent the entire game hating Hoke. But after the game, it was nothing but love for their former head man.
A line of players, J.J. Autele, Logan Ketchum, Alston Umuolo, Colin Lockett, Rene Siluano, Miles Burris and Larry Gibbs, all stood at midfield waiting to hug Hoke.
"It was great to see them," Hoke said when asked about the embraces. "But those conversations are personal."
Cornerback Larry Parker has played a part in six turnovers these last two games. He forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and logged an interception against Michigan, and he recorded two interceptions and forced a fumble last week against Washington State.
Hillman recorded his sixth straight 100-yard rushing game, finishing the afternoon with 109 yards.
Dylan Denso and Colin Lockett both posted career highs in receptions with seven.
The 110,707 was the largest crowd SDSU has ever played in front of.
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