Stevens: Lobos Motivated To Win; Aztecs Eyeing a Bowl-Season Run
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/22/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 22, 2010

. Lobo Football vs. San Diego State
8 p.m. Saturday -- University Stadium
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM, Lobo Radio Network - Pre-game Show at 5 p.m.
TV: The Mtn (Comcast 276, DirecTV 616)
GoLobos.com: Game Tracker / Game Stat / Stats

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The motivations really are strong for both teams. For the Lobos, it's an obvious attempt to push a number onto the "W" side of the column and end the long string of frustration that has given the 0-6 Lobos no wins in 2010.

For San Diego State, the Aztecs have to be looking at Saturday's game as a major stamp on what appears to be a can't-miss bowl run. SDSU is 4-2 and can't afford to throw away a game to a struggling UNM team.

The Lobos are coming out of a bye week and talking about how the break refreshed both bodies and minds. The Aztecs are coming off an impressive knock down of No. 23 Air Force and looking to do some more Mountain West damage.

So, will the Aztecs be taking the Lobos lightly? Will they be looking ahead to tougher Mountain West Conference challenges? Probably not. This is a key game for SDSU simply because the Aztecs know they should win it.

The Lobos have other ideas.

In starting the second half of a 12-game season, it's obvious what the Lobos need to do besides finding a way to scratch into the win column. They have to throw out some of the basic principles of football and do it in a better way than they did in games one through six.

The Lobos need to score more, allow less. They need to tackle better, block better, pass better, run better, coach better. It all starts with what Lobo coach Mike Locksley calls smart football. Sure, the Lobos need to play better from top to bottom, but they also need to step it up in the mental game.

"We are a talented football team, but what has been missing is our ability to play smart football," said Locksley. "We've done quite a bit of (beating ourselves.)."

Said Lobo Anthony Hooks: "It's the little things, that's what's been holding us back."

The little things have been hurting the Lobos in major ways in many areas. A good start for the second half of the season would be to cut down on turnovers and un-smart penalties. A good start would be to go into the fourth quarter again with a chance at victory, like the Lobos did at New Mexico State.

Against the Aztecs, the Lobos might have to raise their emotions and energy to a level not yet seen this season. There simply aren't too many "gimme" wins waiting on the horizon and the Lobos are heavy underdogs to a talented SDSU team.

The Aztecs are throwing out one of their better seasons in years and there are reasons for that climb. They have one of the top offenses in the nation fueled by one of the top quarterbacks and one of the top running backs. You throw ex-Lobo coach Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense into that mix and it definitely looks like a postseason bowl is in the Aztecs' future.

The Lobos could put some hurt on those Aztecs dreams come Saturday.

So, are the Aztecs good enough to toss aside their controversial loss at Brigham Young and still run to a Mountain West title? Probably not. TCU and Utah continue to play far above the pack. But that MWC crown has not yet been forfeited by SDSU, especially with TCU and Utah still in the Aztecs' headlights.

But first the Aztecs need to concentrate on Lobos and you can bet that one Aztec coach has his defenders honed in on the task.

Long makes his first return to University Stadium since leaving town with a handful of UNM money and leaving a mountain of broken Lobo hearts in his wake -- and also a Lobo team on NCAA probation.

The all-time winningest (and losing-est) Lobo coach is the defensive coordinator for SDSU and in his second season seems to have those defenders playing at a high level.

There are lots of stats and defensive stats key to a game's outcome, but the final verdict is always posted on the scoreboard. Long's defense is No. 19 in the nation in points allowed. The most points to be squeezed from that 3-3-5 attack is the 27 posted by Missouri in a home win over SDSU.

You combine a stingy defense with a potent offense and you have one of the top teams in the MWC and a team that just might be 2-0 in the MWC instead of 1-1 if there was better eyesight in a replay booth in Provo, Utah.

A key for the Lobos on offense is the status of quarterback B.R. Holbrook, who has been sidelined with a knee injury. Holbrook is back on the practice field, but not 100 percent. He might play against the Aztecs. He might not.

Even at 100 percent and throwing out his A game, Holbrook might not have been the best quarterback on the field. The Aztecs have a pro prospect in Ryan Lindley, who has three 300-yard passing games this season and is a big reason the Aztecs are ranked No. 23 nationally in passing with a 275.1-yard game average. SDSU in No. 2 in the nation in yards per completion at 15.1. Yes, the Aztecs like to throw long and they have some talent that is hard to catch after they catch the ball.

The only thing worse for a defense than having a star quarterback to worry about is having a star running back in the same backfield. The Aztecs have one. His name is Ronnie Hillman, who is the No. 1 freshman running back in the nation and one of the best in any class.

Hillman burned Air Force for 191 yards. He ripped through Missouri for 228 yards, including TD scampers of 93 and 75 yards.

The Aztecs' offense has to be drooling looking at the numbers given up by the Lobo defense: 444.3 yards per game with 203.8 of those coming off the run. UNM gives up 46.5 points per game.