Stevens: Lobos Challenged To Change Reality Vs. Wyoming

Nov. 9, 2012

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

When/Where: 1:30 p.m. (MT) - Branch Field - University Stadium
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network; Comcast 77 (TV)
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Game Story, Photo Gallery, Statistics

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

If you assume the reality that hit the New Mexico Lobos in the chin last Saturday in a 35-7 loss at UNLV hasn't been altered, then Coach Bob Davie and his staff face a daunting, seemingly impossible task.

They have to change reality.

"We have some unique, unique problems. Trust me," said Davie.

The reality (and at least one problem) is the Lobos have a lot of holes that they almost magically plugged - with hard work and good coaching - to turn a program that won three games in three seasons into a team that won four games in 2012.

That's pretty amazing. But the holes haven't disappeared and, in some ways, have grown larger in the long trek through a 13-game season featuring no bye week. The Lobo roster, damaged by injuries and other exits, is not growing.

New Mexico also is severely challenged in the passing department on both sides of the football. The UNM secondary, thin to begin with, continues to thin out. The Lobos' are ranked 108th in passing defense out of 120 teams. They are 114 in pass efficiency defense. They bend and break.

And here comes Wyoming with one of the top arms in the Mountain West.

It gets worse, statistically, on the other side of the football. New Mexico is dead last (120th) in passing offense -- 53.5 yards per game.

And don't you think the Cowboys have studied the UNLV game tape and noticed how the Rebels keyed on Kasey Carrier and Cole Gautsche - basically daring UNM to pass?

"They (UNLV) came after Cole hard on the options," said Davie. "Even when he pitched it he took a shot. They beat him up pretty good."

It's reasonable to think Wyoming will try to do the same stuff - stuff Carrier and Gautsche, stuff the option. The Lobo might make some adjustments in their attack, but it will be ground based.

The UNM quarterback situation is a strange one. Between 2009 and 2011, UNM signed nine quarterbacks to scholarships. None of those are still around. Senior B.R. Holbrook is the only quarterback prior to that time span, who is still around. But he probably is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

The Lobos have a promising freshman QB in Gautsche, but the 2012 season, which probably should have been a redshirt year, has Gautsche on the field taking hits - big hits.

"I do think we're playing Cole too much," said Davie. "The totality of putting him out there for that many snaps is tough. I could see him at the end of the (UNLV) game; he made some mistakes. Just looking at him at the end of the game, he was tired. He was beat up. "

Davie hints that other Lobos will take some snaps Saturday vs. Wyoming. That might be out of the wildcat formation with Lamaar Thomas and Carrier. That might be quarterback Quinton McCown.

UNM's strength is on the ground and Davie says his team simply doesn't have the tools to vary much from the option. UNM is No. 5 in the nation in rushing and that attack has the Lobos No. 1 in the nation in time of possession. These also are stats that amaze.

That ticking clock will be important Saturday on Branch Field. The Lobos need to keep Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith off the field. This is a quarterback who knows what to do with possessions.

The Lobos are 4-6 overall and 1-4 in a Mountain West race that is top heavy and bottom heavy. There are four teams with one loss: Fresno State (5-1), San Diego State (5-1), Boise State (4-1) and Air Force (4-1). New Mexico has one win along with Wyoming (1-4) and Colorado State (1-4). Hawaii is on the bottom at 0-5. Nevada at 3-2 and UNLV at 2-3 form a two-team middle.

The Cowboys have a disappointing record, but have been competitive on most scoreboards. They have lost three games by three points or less and dropped a fourth game in overtime.

They don't run the ball very well, but probably don't care much about that ground game looking at the pass-porous UNM defense. Wyoming is coming off a convincing 45-31 win over Colorado State - a season-high in points for the `Pokes.

Wyoming's Smith threw four touchdowns and ran for another in that win. He is a tough Cowboy. 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.

"This player (Smith) is one player our guys talk about," said Davie. "He has made a tremendous impression on our team from last year. He kind of reminds me of a gym rat guy. A guy who is very productive, loves to play, elusive playmaker. He's a challenge."

Smith also is a good decision-maker in the red zone. Wyoming is No. 4 in the nation converting on 28 of 30 chances. The Cowboys were five-of-five in the red zone vs. CSU. They were 15-of-20 on third down conversions.

The Lobos' red zone defense isn't bad. They are No. 34 in the nation. But a lot of penetrations into the UNM end zone have come from well beyond the red zone.

"When you give up the kind of big plays we give up ... The bottom line is that shouldn't happen," said Davie.

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.