Sept. 22, 2011
New Mexico Lobos Football -- At University Stadium
Who:Sam Houston State Bearkats at Lobos
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
On The Air: No TV; 770-AM KKOB, Lobo Radio Network; pre-game 1 p.m.
GoLobos.com:Game Story, Stats, LoboTV, Quotes, Photo Gallery
Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Bearkats of Sam Houston State represent to the Lobos a sword with a double edge - in several ways.
On offense, the Kats scratch at teams with a speed option that also sets up a competent passing attack. The Lobo defenders have to be sharp here. There is need for run support as the Bearkats' option is a quick-hitting affair fueled by mobile linemen, who get down the field fast. But don't ignore that receiver!
"We noticed their O-line comes off the ball extremely well," said Lobo senior Bubba Forrest. "We have to know our assignments. Who has the pitch and who has the quarterback. They mix things up a bit. It's kind of an option spread."
The double edged sword called Sam Houston State also comes from who and what they are. They are not upper-level BCS football. They are Southland Conference. They are a team an upper-tier program like New Mexico is expected to beat.
But these Kats might not be your ordinary "guaranteed-win" game.
Sam Houston State returns 11 offensive starters and nine defensive starters. They return 11 of their top 12 tacklers from a year ago. The Kats are not pussycats. They have claws, a plan and a purpose.
"They are coming here to hit us in the mouth," said Lobo linebacker Dallas Bollema, a product of Artesia (N.M.) High. "We give this team as much respect as we have given anybody."
When you are a 0-3 Lobo team looking for your first win of 2011, respect and focus is a good thing.
The Kats plan to run the ball down the Lobos throats and accent that option attack with precise passing. On defense, they swarm the ball and are not hesitant to blitz during passing downs. They are an aggressive team.
"Our plan is to stuff their option," said Bollema. "But they make their living off the option, and we have to respect how well they do it. They have a lot of experience running it."
Cook Off Challenge
The Albertsons Cook Off Challenge for Saturday vs. Sam Houston State is Tailgaters' Choice: hamburgers, brats or sausage. The contest is at 2 p.m. on the northeast corner of The Pit. Last week's winner (ribs) was Gary Lange. The weekly prize is a $50 gift certificate to Albertsons.
Said Forrest: "They are athletic and they have a lot of talent. It's going to be fun going against a team you know likes to run because you can get in some big hits."
The blitzing Bearkats are thinking the same thing. Most likely, the target they have in mind is sophomore quarterback Tarean Austin, who is the main trigger in Coach Mike Locksley'smulti-attack, no-huddle offense.
Of course, the Bearkats have a bigger target in mind and that's knocking off the New Mexico Lobos and spoiling UNM's homecoming. Are the Kats of Southland good enough to do this?
The Lobos have more size and probably more talent than the Bearkats. But the Bearkats are good at what they do. They have a plan. They are disciplined. Can they do what they do better than the Lobos do what they do?
The Kats are undefeated at 2-0, ranked, and are coming off a 31-10 pounding of Central Arkansas. The Bearkats team that led the Southland in rush defense in 2010 returns 11 of the team's top 12 tacklers from that 2010 run bully.
And it shows.
The Bearkat defense is ranked No. 2 nationally in rushing defense holding opponents to an embarrassing 42 run yards per game; 1.6 yards per attempt. Better yet for the Kats -- and worse for their opponents -- they are No. 3 in scoring defense, yielding eight points a game. They are No. 7 in the NCAA Division I FCS stats in total defense, giving up 243.5 yards per game.
These are nasty numbers - forged against other FCS schools.
The Bearkats aren't shy when it comes to blitzing. They had 31 sacks in 2010. The Kats had five sacks in their season opener vs. Western Illinois. Jarrett Brown, a transfer from the Oklahoma Sooners, had two sacks. Sam Houston State probably took a good look at the UNM/Colorado State game in which Austin was sacked nine times.
The Lobos' multi-attack offense has moved the ball fairly well, but has struggled inside the red zone and has struggled to get into the end zone. UNM averages 8.7 points per game and has scored only two touchdowns in three games.
Austin has completed 43-of-83 passes for a lukewarm 51.8 percentage. He has tossed only one touchdown. Freshman running back Crusoe Gongbayhas UNM's other TD.
UNM's top receivers are Deon Long with 15 grabs for 265 yards and Ty Kirk with 11 catches for 94 yards. Lamaar Thomasdid not play against Texas Tech and has seven receptions in two games for 94 yards and UNM's lone passing score. Thomas is expected to miss Saturday's game with a back injury.
The UNM running game has yet to distinguish itself, but has a nice size advantage over the smaller Bearkats' D-line. Senior James Wrighthas 108 yards with a 3.7 average per carry and Gongbay had 87 yards with a 4.1 average. Austin, an effective scrambler out of a broken pocket, leads UNM in rushing with 126 yards.
The Lobos will have a size advantage in the trenches, but the Bearkats are not tiny. They can start an offensive line that goes 300, 305, 290, 305 and 275. Not huge, but the run stats that flow behind the Kats' O-line are impressive.
Sam Houston State's Tim Flanders rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown and Richard Sincere added 107 rushing yards and two scores in the Kats' 31-10 win over Central Arkansas. The Bearkats had two 100-yard rushers in a single game.
"Running the option is a big part of our offense, so we work on it daily," said Sam Houston State`s Sincere.
Flanders, the Southland Freshman of The Year in 2010, averaged 94.8 yards per game last season. He had seven games of 100 yards or more last season. He broke that barrier in both Sam Houston`s games this season.
Sophomore quarterback Brian Bell threw for 1,371 yards in 2010. He hit 16-of-22 passes for 198 yards against Western Illinois and went 9-of-13 for 99 yards against Central Arkansas. If teams fill the box to prevent the run, Bell appears to be a capable -- and accurate -- passer.
The Lobos probably want the Bears to pass. That likely would mean that Bollema and company have "stuffed" the option.