Sept. 18, 2010
Lobos vs. No. 14 Utah -- University Stadium
When: 6 p.m., Saturday
On The Air: The Mtn; 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network
Online: GameTracker, quotes, game story on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If there is a football fairy godmother -- or maybe just a sense of fair play -- hanging over University Stadium today, then Lobo quarterback B.R. Holbrook will sprint to UNM's first huddle and stay there the whole game.
He will stand tall and steady in the pocket. He will break tackle after tackle, if he decides to run at the mighty Utah Utes, who are heavily favored to beat Lobos.
But that's a very "iffy" scenario for a young New Mexico offense that saw a spark of its future when it rolled out 433 yards last Saturday against Texas Tech. UNM's sophomore quarterback is nursing a sore knee and is considered day-to-day and maybe snap-to-snap.
The old adage "if it wasn't for bad luck, we wouldn't have any," might apply to the Lobos today as they square off with No. 14 ranked Utah. But it's also true that a lot of that bad luck has come from the Lobos' own hand.
They simply have been too generous in helping the enemy. The Lobos have gift-wrapped field position as well as points in falling to 0-2 in the young season. "We have to quit shooting ourselves in the foot," said Darrell Dickey, UNM's offensive coordinator.
When Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville pulled his Red Raiders out of University Stadium last Saturday, he said it only gets tougher, looking ahead to a date with ranked Texas. It might get tougher for the Lobos today, too.
The Lobos lost to an unranked Tech team 52-17. They greet the No. 14 team in the nation in the Utes. There is no question the Lobos need to get better on both sides of the football or face a tough evening against a Utah team that appears to be more than solid on their two sides.
The good news for the Lobos vs. Tech was UNM showing a lot of improvement moving the football. The bad news today is Holbrook's status. "B.R. played very well and he really competed against Tech," said Dickey. "We obviously made more plays than we did in the first game."
Holbrook passed for 323 yards vs. Tech, going 30-of-50. At times, he looked like the razor-sharp QB, who tore up the Lobo defense during fall drills. If Holbrook can't go today, Lobo fans should see a combination of junior Brad Gruner and freshman Tarean Austin.
Losing Holbrook would be a tough break for the Lobos, who are working their way through a Murderers Row schedule of Oregon, Texas Tech and Utes. The Lobos attitude is, "It is what it is."
"We're excited to play a ranked Utah team," said Lobo coach Mike Locksley. "Injuries are part of the game."
That excitement could increase if UNM can move the ball consistently against Utah, reach the scoreboard, and - especially - cut down on mistakes. The Lobos were flagged 16 times vs. Tech. The Lobos' special teams have been giving up more points than what the Lobo offense has scored.
"We are playing some tough teams that are difficult to move the ball against even when you are executing well," said Dickey. "We have had way too many offensive penalties, things that kill drives.
"We know this is a young team with a new quarterback and we knew we would experience some inconsistency, but we have to execute on a consistent basis. We had a number of nicely executed plays (against Tech) that we want to be known for, but we also had too many malfunctioning plays."
One area that has malfunctioned too much for the Lobos this season is the running game that Locksley tried to improve in the spring and fall. If Holbrook sits, UNM will need to run the ball to take pressure off Gruner and Austin.
The Lobos are averaging only 61 yards on the ground. Demond Dennis averages 2.0 yards per carry, Kasey Carrier has a 2.7 average and James Wright is a 1.4. The Utah defense is yielding 92.0 yards per game and 292.5 total.
"There is no drop off with these guys," said Dickey. "They are good and they are fast. They run to the ball in a hurry.
"They are a zone/blitz team, but they'll come up sometime and say, `We think we can man your receivers and commit everyone else to the run." They will bring pressure and see if you can pick it up.
"They try to keep themselves less vulnerable to giving up big plays. They are the 14th-ranked team in the country and they like to play great defense and they have been playing great defense there for a long time."
The UNM defense gives up 260.5 a game and 591 total. UNM opponents are over 60 percent in converting third downs and fourth downs. UNM has given up 72 and 52 points for a 62-point average.
Those numbers need to change drastically. That might be an unfair expectation with the No. 14 Utes in front of the Lobos. Utah won 27-24 vs. Pittsburgh and hammered UNLV 38-10 - both games in Salt Lake City.
For sure, a Lobo upset is more difficult to envision with Holbrook on the sidelines. And, in case you have forgotten, he might be sitting next to Lobo Carmen Messina, the nation's leading tackler in 2009. Messina is nursing an ankle sprain.
"You have to play the hand that is dealt to you," said Locksley. "We aren't going out there looking for any excuses. That's not what this program is about."