Coming into Friday’s game, with the chance of playing in the Mountain West Championship game gone, the San Diego State football team was playing for pride and a chance at a better bowl bid.
Playing his last regular season college football game, senior running back Rashaad Penny proved that pride could be a great motivator. Snubbed by the Doak Walker Award for the best college running back in the nation, the NCAA’s leading rusher became the 29th person to break the 2,000-yard rushing mark in the 35-10 win against New Mexico (3-9, 1-7) at SDCCU Stadium.
But Penny doesn’t see it that way. His record-breaking performance is just how it is. Pride wasn’t a factor.
“I mean no, because — just go out there and play the same way I’ve been playing for the last, how many, 12 games? Yeah, 12 games I played,” he said in a post-game news conference. “Just go out there and have fun and try to win. That’s the whole motto. And whatever happens after the game happens.”
Penny reached that the 2,000-yard milestone in the early third quarter when he broke through a tackle and ran for 51 yards up the middle for a touchdown to give the Aztecs (10-2, 6-2 ) a 21-0 lead. He rushed for 22 times for 203 yards and two touchdowns. This was Penny’s fourth straight game with more than 200 yards rushing and his fifth this season.
“He’s as good as any running back in the country. I don’t care what they say,” Aztec coach Rocky Long said. “He’s as good as any of them. And he doesn’t probably it’s not going to get the recognition he deserves because he’s one of us. But I don’t think that in the back of his mind I don’t think it bothers him very much because he likes being one of us. And he would have done the same thing if he had gone to ‘SC or someplace like that, he would have done the same thing and he would be in the Heisman Trophy ballot.”
And was Penny mad about being snubbed? Not in the least bit, he said.
“I got these guys. I got this coaching staff. They believe in me.,” Penny said. “They all know that I’m probably the No. 1 back in the country. And they know I’m a Heisman winner.”
“Yeah, we do,” senior fullback Nick Bawden interjected.
SDSU also made history by becoming the first FBS school to have back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons by two different backs. Donnel Pumphrey set the school record with 2,133 yards last year and Penny only needs 107 yards to break that record in the Aztec’s upcoming bowl game.
Friday’s game was also Senior Day, where SDSU honored the 19 seniors who contributed to the school’s most successful run in the past four-plus seasons. During that time, the Aztecs have won two Mountain West championships, three division titles (some of which were shared), won three bowl games and played in four, and posted a 47-17 record.
Now, San Diego State waits for an official bowl bid. SDSU was guaranteed a bowl bid when it won its sixth game this season on Oct. 7. The Aztecs are projected to play in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 16 or the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 26.