Stevens: Lobos To Face Another Pass-Happy Quarterback

Nov. 5, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Football - Mountain West - Vs. Wyoming Cowboys

When/Where: 1:30 p.m. (MT) - Branch Field - University Stadium

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

Is it possible that the 2-8 Wyoming Cowboys have turned things around on a disappointing season just in time for their visit to New Mexico?

Well, a few things indicate the answer to that question is "Yes."

  • The Cowboys scored a season-high 45 points in a convincing 45-31 win over Colorado State. Wyoming's (1-4) first league win of the season.

  • The Cowboys earned this week's Mountain West Offensive Player of The Week in quarterback Brett Smith.

  • The Cowboys also lassoed the Mountain's Defensive Player of The Week in cornerback Blair Burns, who returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown.

    Now, Burns' ability to snatch opposing passes out of the air might not be a factor on Branch Field on Saturday. The Lobos plan to start freshman Cole Gautsche as the leader of the UNM huddle and that means the Lobos' first, second and third option probably will be the option.

    It's here we come - try and stop us.

    But the return of Smith to winning form is not good news for the Lobos. Smith tossed four touchdowns and ran for another in Wyoming's win. He had 272 total yards with 235 coming through the air. He went 19-of-32 (59 percent).

    Wyoming had 468 total yards vs. CSU which was the Cowboys second-highest output of the season. Smith's ability to convert on third down was huge in keeping Wyoming drives alive and adding to the Cowboys' positive yardage production.

    Wyoming was 15-of-20 on third down conversions with Smith completing eight successful third-down passes.

    The Cowboys pretty much rolled and coasted to this win over their "Border War" rival from Fort Collins. The `Pokes were up 42-17 at the end of three quarters. Wyoming was five-of-five in the CSU red zone and Wyoming tops the Mountain in that category.

    Now, Smith hasn't exactly been a bust in 2012. Actually, this is his second MW Player of The Week award. The Mountain West Freshman of The Year a season ago has battled injury this season and missed two Wyoming games.

    Still, with or without Smith, the Cowboys have struggled. Before CSU's visit, Wyoming had lost four home games: 28-27 to Air Force, 24-22 to Cal Poly, 34-31 to Toledo and were smoked 45-14 by Boise State.

    Smith left the Toledo game - by ambulance - in the fourth quarter.

    To generalize, a bit, the Cowboys are similar to UNLV. They have been competitive in many of their games - losing four times by seven points or fewer. UNLV probably has more balance on offense, but Wyoming might have the better quarterback.

    The Cowboys can be good offensively behind a hot Smith, but too many of their woes have come on the defensive side.

    In those close defeats, the Cowboys have given up 24 to 35 points. They lost 35-28 at Nevada. Wyoming averages 25.4 points on offense, but gives up an average of 34.8 points. The 'Pokes give up an average of 455.8 yards per game.

    Losing close games is a contrast to 2011 when Wyoming won all five games it played which were decided by eight or fewer points.

    A quick glance at what Wyoming does on offense reflects the importance of Smith to this unit that usually attacks out of a spread.

    Wyoming likes to spread out the defenses and allow Smith time to pick a secondary apart. He can be very good at it. He had 294 total yards in a 37-17 loss at Texas, 401 total yards vs. Toledo, and threw for a career-high 370 yards in a 40-37 overtime win at Idaho.

    Wyoming averages 136.7 yards rushing a game. The Cowboys have no running back averaging more than 37 yards per game. They run to keep defenses honest in their charge at Smith.

    Smith averages 255.9 yards in his seven games and completes 61.3 percent of his passes. His two backups - Jason Thompson and Colby Kirkegaard - average 37 and 41 yards passing, respectively.

    Smith's top target is Chris McNeill, who has 50 grabs for 564 yards. Jalen Clairborne has 29 receptions and Dominic Rufran and Brandon Miller each have 28 catches.

    The New Mexico vs. Wyoming battle on Saturday has no mystery to it when it comes to how the two teams will try and move the football.

    "We will run it," said Lobo Coach Bob Davie.

    And Brett Smith will throw it.

    Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.