Stevens: A.J. Butler Recovers Two Fumbles, Scores a TD in Loss to Utah
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  09/18/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Sept. 18, 2010

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Lobo Football
Utah 56, Lobos 14
Up Next: Lobos at UNLV, Sept 25
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

You can take the receiver out of the offense, but maybe you can't take the offense out of the receiver -- even if you turn him into a ball-hawking defensive back.

There is no question that Lobo safety A.J. Butler knows what to do with a football he sees bouncing live on the grass at University Stadium. If he can, the former New Mexico receiver will pick it up and run with it.

He did exactly that exactly one play into the second half of UNM's 56-14 loss to No. 14 Utah Saturday night at University Stadium. A Ute caught a pass over the middle and tried to break maybe one too many tackles and let the ball squint out of his hands -- and into the capable hands of Butler.

The Lobo danced down the sideline 27 yards to give the Lobos their first crack on the scoreboard.

"Every opportunity I get, I'm going to take advantage of," said the Lobo sophomore. "It felt good to get the turnovers on defense and give our offense a chance to go out and make plays themselves."

The good thing about Butler's score was it put the Lobos on the scoreboard and down only 14 points to the Utes at 21-7. The bad thing was that maybe it made the Utes mad, or simply woke them up.

They roared back scoring 14 points in under a minute and 21 points in under five minutes. It was, boom, the Lobos were back in the game and, boom, boom, the Utes were up 35-7. And then, boom a third time, and UNM was down 42-7.

Game over. UNM fell to 0-3 and 0-1 in the Mountain West Conference race.

A.J. Butler Scores TD

The Utes' first strike after Butler's score took 35 seconds and was accented by a 75-yard pass from Terrance Cain to Jereme Brooks at 14:04. At 13:08, Utah's Matt Martinez returned an interception 36 yards to score. At 9:48, Shaky Smithson went 73 yards on a punt return into the UNM end zone.

What Lobo coach Mike Locksley wanted to shore up for Utah - turnovers and special teams - bit the Lobos big time in the third quarter that ended with Utah up 49-14.

"The special teams made small improvements," said Locksley. "We still allowed the ball to go back."

The Lobos started the game handcuffed a bit on offense as UNM's No. 1 quarterback, B.R. Holbrook, never made it to the field. UNM went with junior Brad Gruner and Tarean Austin. Gruner went 3-of-8 passing for 33 yards. Austin went 15-27-1 for 128 yards and got UNM's lone offensive touchdowns.

Locksley said if Holbrook is healthy for UNM's game at UNLV on Saturday, then the sophomore will be back in the huddle. If not, Austin might be the man. He made the one huge mistake when he hit Utah's Martinez in the chest, but on his third command of the UNM huddle, you could see what Locksley saw when he recruited this talent out of Tampa, Fla. Austin has nice feet and a strong arm.

The freshman marched UNM 80 yards in 12 plays, completing the drive with an 18-yard bullet to a Bryant Williams. Austin missed one play on that drive after he fell to the ground shortly after a sideline scramble.

"I had to get a little break - altitude," said Austin.

It was a nice scoring drive for the Lobo pup. He overcame a 15-yard penalty that pushed UNM back to the Utah 22-yard line. His TD pass to Williams made the score 42-14.

"I grade myself a C," he said. "There is still work that needs to be done." Austin said after he found out he would stay in the pocket in the second half, he thought: "This is my time to show people what I can do; go out and be a leader, play my game and have fun while I'm doing it."

Austin might have been having fun, but it wasn't a real pleasurable day for the Lobo defense or the Lobo special teams. UNM was burned on the ensuing kickoff by Smithson, who threw a few shakes on some would-be Lobo tacklers in a 51-yard return.

Utah struck back quickly, finishing the four-play drive with a 33-yard TD pass from Cain to DeVonte Christopher. Utah was up 49-14. The third quarter ended that way.

Utah went heavily to its bench in the fourth quarter and scored only one TD, going 80 yards in three plays and 73 seconds. Utah totaled 227 yards on kickoffs and punt returns.

"I thought our guys played with more poise," said Locksley. "I think our kids tried hard and we didn't have the not-smart plays. We cut down on our penalties. There were times in the game when each phase played well. You can build on that."

Utah finished the game with 428 total yards, 180 on the ground and 248 passing. UNM had 230 yards with 69 on the ground and 161 through the air. Locksley said he was not happy with his rushing stats.

"If there is any disappointment I have right now on offense, it's the play of our offensive line and our inability to efficiently run the ball," said Locksley.


Lobo fans didn't have to wait long for the bad news about Holbrook. UNM took the opening kickoff and UNM's No. 1 quarterback was on the bench. Gruner, a tough kid and a good leader, had the huddle. He failed to move UNM and the Lobos punted to Utah.

The Lobos got a break early. Utah moved to the Lobo 30-yard line, but a quick pitch by Cain was mishandled and UNM's Butler recovered on the UNM 36-yard line. The Lobos punted four plays later and Utah's Shaky Smithson brought the ball back 34 yards to the UNM 44-yard line. The Lobos lost their advantage.

Utah got a break on its next drive when UNM's Bubba Forrest popped a Utah receiver, who had dropped a pass over the middle. Forrest was called for a personal foul, moving the ball to the UNM 19-yard line.

Utah was closing in on its first score when UNM's Carmen Messina forced a fumble. There was a wild scramble for possession of the loose football and UNM ended up with the ball.

A replay ruled that a Ute had possession with his knee on the turf before the ball popped loose a second time. The officials returned the ball to the Utes. Utah's Matt Asiata scored two plays later to push the Utes up 7-0 at the 6:55 mark of the first quarter.

Gruner, who hadn't played in UNM's first two games, looked more comfortable on UNM's third possession of the game. He completed a 29-yard pass to Dennis streaking down the east sideline. He also ran off tackle on a third-and-two to hand UNM a first down at the Utah 36.

The drive then fizzled and UNM's James Aho attempted a 41-yard field goal. It went wide. Utah failed to move the chains on its next possession and UNM took over on its 19-yard line. Austin came out to quarterback the Lobos. The quarter ended with Utah up 7-0.

The first-quarter stats were almost a wash. Utah had 17 plays for 51 yards. UNM had 17 plays for 58 yards. The field position that favored Utah helped the Utes reach the scoreboard.

Second Quarter

Austin went into the second quarter looking at third-and-nine. He completed a four-yard pass to Kirk. UNM punted. Utah used a 33-yard Ben Skaer punt to start a drive at the UNM 47-yard line. Cain took the Utes 47 yards in eight plays finishing with a one-yard pass to Dallin Rogers. Utah went up 14-0.

It wasn't exactly a clean or perfect half for Utah. The Utes lost a good opportunity to keep field position when they had UNM looking at fourth-and-long with 4:40 to play in the half. A dead-ball, 15-yard, personal foul on Utah gave UNM an automatic first down on the UNM 36.

Gruner pushed the Lobos into Utah territory with a 17-yard run out of a dying pocket. Utah killed the drive with a third-down sack of Gruner on the UNM 46-yard line.

Utah took over on the 20-yard line, 80 yards and 130 seconds away from the UNM end zone. The Utes went into their two-minute offense and scored with 29 seconds to spare. UNM took a knee and went into the half down 21-0.

The second quarter was not a good statistical 15 minutes for UNM. The Lobos finished the half with 68 total yards to 184 for Utah. The Utes had three punt returns for 67 yards. UNM ended the half 1-of-8 on third-down conversions. UNM ran the ball 23 times for a 31-yard total. Dennis had 24 yards on seven carries.