Oct. 23, 2009
What: UNLV at Lobos
When/Where: 6:06 p.m. Saturday, University Stadium
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM, Lobo Radio Network
TV: The Mtn (Comcast 276, DirecTV 616)
Online: GameTracker; game story on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The view from 0-and-6 surely doesn't present a sunrise of overconfidence for the winless New Mexico Lobos, but neither does it block a peripheral flicker of optimistic light.
"They see us as a beatable team," said one UNLV player of the University of New Mexico's homecoming game Saturday with the Rebels of Vegas.
Yeah, that is a truth. The Lobos also saw the possibility for victory when they looked at Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Air Force and all the other teams that mashed UNM into its 0-6 condition.
There are at least two truths all Lobos need to swallow prior to the clash with Rebs.
1. They are beatable. The 2-5 Rebs are riding an 0-4 streak into University Stadium.
2. The Rebs aren't that bad and, at times, are pretty darn good.
"I think they are a much better team than their record shows," said George Barlow, UNM's assistant head coach.
Again, there are facts about these Rebels that all Lobos need to see as they contemplate lighting up the positive side of UNM's record.
The Rebels lost 30-27 Wyoming, but outplayed the Cowboy team that beat and outplayed the Lobos. The Rebels lost to Utah, but beat the powerful Utes in many aspects of the statistical game including time of possession and first downs. Actually, the Rebs matched Utah in total yards at 327 apiece.
Sure, the Rebs are beatable. They have been beaten five times. But are they beatable for an 0-6 UNM team? Do these Lobos really believe they can win or is player-talk?
"We are going out there to win," said UNM's Anthony Hooks. "It just comes down to execution. If we do what we are supposed to do, we know we can win."
The Rebs come into Albuquerque as a beleaguered team, which hasn't seen some of its good work on the field make it to the scoreboard. There is talk that coach Mike Sanford's job is on the line and a loss to 0-6 UNM might be a final straw in that decision.
This brings us to another two-point list about these Rebs. Take your pick:
1. They are ready to roll over.
2. They are going to fight tooth-and-nail for their coach and for their own personal pride as athletes.
The guess here is that No. 2 will reflect the Rebs attitude. The last game for UNLV revealed a Rebel team with good fight and good personnel. The Rebs have had some bad breaks. They are a team that hurts itself too much with mistakes and has problems running the ball. But they played physical with the Utes.
It's doubtful the Rebs are overconfident with their view of the Lobos, but UNLV obviously sees the same thing when they look over at UNM: a beatable team.
"We still have a lot of confidence in what we are doing," said Lobo QB Donovan Porterie. "We know if we execute and do the things we are capable of doing, we always have a chance to win."
The Rebs average only 107 yards on the ground, so the challenge for UNM will come through the air. It is an attack generated from the arm of 6-foot-1 junior Omar Clayton, looking at a deep and talented group of UNLV receivers. Of course, Clayton's top target is Ryan Wolfe, a strong All-American candidate and future NFL draft pick.
Wolfe is great. Clayton can be good. He had completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,459 yards. He averages 243 yards per game. Wolfe has 50 grabs.
"They have good receivers and they are big," said Hooks. "They do a good job getting to balls and catching them. If we can slow them down, we have a good chance to win."
Clearly, UNM's best shot at a victory in 2009 is behind them. That was the visit by New Mexico State. Clearly, the road to any victory in 2009 only gets tougher. The Lobos next go to San Diego State and Utah, return to Albuquerque for Brigham Young and Colorado State and then finish at TCU in Fort Worth.
There is a sense of urgency about this game. For Lobos. For Rebels.
The Rebs' season of 2009 wasn't supposed to be a great one simply because teams like TCU, BYU and Utah are ahead of the Rebs on the MWC food chain. Then there are solid MWC teams in Colorado State and Air Force.
Still, the Rebels entered the season sniffing around at possibly sneaking out six wins and slipping into a bowl. Kind of like what CSU did in 2008.
Sanford definitely should be looking over his shoulder as he carries a 13-41 mark at UNLV into Saturday's game. There simply isn't enough progress there not to worry about losing to 0-6 New Mexico. There also is that 63-28 loss to Nevada, a score that accents the "beatable" label on the Rebs.
That score also produced a "We're going to be watching," quote from the UNLV president.
The Lobos are being watched, too, but there is much more patience for a Mike Locksley program in its first season. It is a program revamping with a new offense and a new defense. It is a coaching staff that has yet to have a full season of recruiting.
Still, despite all the patience and confidence in the future, all Lobos want one thing on Saturday -- that first win.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner