SAN DIEGO—The No. 19 San Diego State Aztecs didn’t take too kindly to seeing star running back Rashaad Penny coming off the field in pain after having his right eye gouged by a Northern Illinois player in the second quarter Saturday night.
”It got us fired up,” cornerback Kameron Kelly said after the Aztecs got some big plays early and then held off NIU 34-28 to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1975. Juwan Washington brought back the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and freshman Tariq Thompson had two interceptions – including an 83-yard TD return.
Kelly said there was smack talk from NIU before the game. And then TV cameras picked up Antonio Jones-Davis sticking his hand into Penny’s facemask while the star running back was at the bottom of a pile after returning a kickoff.
”If that’s their attitude, we’ve got to have the same attitude, between the whistles, start making them feel it between the whistles,” Kelly said.
Penny went into the locker room for eye drops. When he returned to the game, there was a visor installed in his facemask.
”I just think that stuff shouldn’t happen,” said Penny, the nation’s second-leading rusher coming in who was held to 107 yards on 25 carries for his lowest output of the season. ”I thought we were all more mature than that. I bounced back. I can’t thank my teammates enough. They picked me up when I was down. It was all them. It was a great win.”
NIU coach Rod Perry said he talked to Jones-Davis ”and he admitted it to me. I’m going to get home and let the emotions die down and see what the next steps are. He’s a great kid but it was the emotions of a 22-year-old. But we are going to deal with it, for sure.”
While he wasn’t pleased to see it happen, SDSU coach Rocky Long said, ”A lot of times things like that happen when you’re in a pile. They just happened to get it on TV or no one would have known but us because he came to the sideline with his eyes hurting. But since they got it on TV, it’s a big deal.Penny caught a 33-yard scoring pass from Christian Chapman in the first quarter. It didn’t help the rushing game that guard Antonio Rosales, the only senior on the line, was out with an ankle injury.SDSU (5-0) is off to its best start since going 8-0 to open the 1975 season. It finished 8-3 that year.