Stevens: Yes, Lobos vs. NMSU Aggies Is A Big Game

Sept. 21, 2012

New Mexico Lobos at New Mexico State

When/Where: 6 p.m., Saturday - Las Cruces - Aggie Memorial Field
On The Air: 770 KKOB-AM, Lobo Radio Network; ESPN3.com
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Game Story, Stats

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The guess here is that all coaches really know when a game is the proverbial "big one," but prefer to dance around that pinning label. Lobo Coach Bob Davie is not dancing.

He sees Saturday's New Mexico vs. New Mexico State game as exactly what it is. It is a rivalry game of turf and emotions and bragging rights. It is special.

It is a winnable game for a 1-2 Lobo team that has quite a few games in 2012 that might not fall into that category. This is an opportunity the Lobos need to reach out and grasp.

It also is a game of measurement. Davie's Lobos were much better than Southern and not nearly as good as Texas or Texas Tech. The Aggies will bring with them a degree of balance and with that balance comes a measuring stick.

"It will better tell us where we're at," said the first-year Lobo coach.

If you twist around some of the good things that happened to Lobos in their first three games, you can envision a Lobo win. The Lobos were efficient and consistent against Southern. They outplayed Texas for a quarter - at Texas. UNM's 17-play scoring drive at Texas Tech was accomplished against the Red Raiders' front line. It was a grind-it-out thing of beauty.

There are other things that happened at Texas and at Tech that appear to favor the Aggies, who are riding a three-game win streak over their up-state rival.

The gray area in this game is formed by the balance of talent shared by UNM and NMSU. The Lobos should be able to do things - and stop things - against NMSU that the Lobos weren't able to do - and stop -- against Tech and Texas.

But can they do enough of those things? The Aggies are not a bad football team. They have a strong-arm quarterback in Andrew Manley and the Lobos were shredded by a strong-arm quarterback in Lubbock.

"He's a big, strong guy. He stands in the pocket and he throws it," said Jeff Mills, UNM's defensive coordinator. "So many quarterbacks get nervous in the pocket, but he doesn't.

"They'll move him around a little bit, but he's the traditional, pro-style passer. That's what he does best."

After giving up 702 yards to Texas Tech, Mills might not know what his Lobo defense does best. They gave up 325 yards on the ground and 377 through the air.

The Red Raiders used a quick-strike passing game to set up their run. The Aggies surely would like to run against UNM, but that aspect of the NMSU offense has been mediocre.

The Aggies average 2.7 yards per play on the ground and 8.2 yards per pass. Manley obviously is the Aggie to target in Cruces, but Mills wants to make sure the Aggies don't open with a strong running game.

"We have to concentrate on the run," said Mills. "We can't let the run game get started because that helps them become multi-dimensional."

If the Aggies become multi-dimensional, that means the run game is working, too. For sure, the Aggies will be passing the football. Manley has tossed the ball 93 times this season for 789 yards and seven touchdowns. He averages 263 yards per game. NMSU averages 94.7 yards per game on the ground.

Manley's main targets are Austin Franklin with 20 grabs for 415 yards and Kemonte Bateman with 193 yards on 13 receptions. The Aggies do not hide the fact that the ball will be aimed at these two Aggies. The Aggies have not thrown much to backs out of the backfield, but might look to do that more against the Lobos.

New Mexico needs a big game from a quarterback and Coach Davie has hinted that senior B.R. Holbrook might not be sharing as much huddle time with freshman Cole Gautsche. The UNM offense has been inconsistent and Davie is looking for a rhythm that has yet to surface. The Lobo offense also is not as multiple with Gautsche on the field.

Holbrook has tossed only 27 passes in 2012, going 17 of 27 with a single touchdown. UNM has no receiver with more than three receptions and Gautsche is the top rusher with a 53-yard average per game.

Obviously, the Lobos need to do better on both sides of the ball. The Lobo offense has to help the Lobo defense and vice versa. The Aggies struggle in a few key areas, too, but they have shown they can reach the scoreboard. NMSU averages 33.7 points per game.

The stats and facts make for an interesting game Saturday in Cruces, but there is more. When you toss in the rivalry aspect, it becomes a game of bragging rights for both 1-2 squads and their fans.

It is a war for New Mexico dirt. As former Lobo Clink McPeek once put it: "If we lose, we'll never hear the end of it."

"A rivalry game is always different than any other game. I'm excited," said Mills. "We are on the road going into enemy territory and this will be a fun game."

It also will be a big game - no dancing around that.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.