Aug. 19, 2009
What: Lobos at Texas A&M
When: 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 5
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM. TV: None
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Lobo running back exploded out of his stance, accepted a smooth handoff from Donovan Porterie and exploded again through a wide and gracious hole opened by center Erik Cook and guard Joshua Taufalele.
The back was through the crack in a blink and a slight and instinctive shift in angles pushed him past the closing linebackers and into a small seam in the defensive backfield. Only a quick whistle stopped this Lobo from a long run into the distant end zone.
The back on this day had a name and a number, but it could have been just about any of the backs that Coach Mike Locksley has in his talented and deep backfield of Lobos. And all of them have had similar runs, similar moments of shine during the University of New Mexico's preseason camp.
All of them have made Locksley's decision as to which back to throw into the fire a decision that will be both easy and hard. Easy, because it might not matter too much which name or number Locksley calls. Hard, because if there is an odd Lobo out, he isn't sitting out because of lack of skills.
"We have a lot of guys who can help us," said Locksley. "Right now, we are waiting to see if any of them separate themselves from the others. The freshmen are doing a great job and they are in the mix right along with A.J. (Butler) and James (Wright). We have seen good things from all our backs."
Locksley said if he eventually sees some distinctive separation from a Lobo or two, those backs probably will see the most action come Sept. 5 at Texas A&M. But if there isn't any standout or standouts, Locksley said he's not worried about getting his rushing yards by committee.
"If someone proves himself to be the hot guy carrying the load, you go with him," said Locksley. "But the day of a single workhorse might be gone. You probably need at least two out there and maybe three."
Said Wright: "This offense is designed so everybody will have a chance to touch the ball, so that means us running backs will get our chance, too. I'm expecting more than one back to be out there getting reps."
The Lobo running backs have distinctive looks, but there is a lot of similarity when it comes to productive skills.
Wright is the veteran of the group with 54 runs in 2008 for 348 yards and an eye-catching 6.4 average per run. The sophomore is a power runner much like Rodney Ferguson, but with a bit more speed.
"This offense asks you to be a lot of things, so I'm working hard to be a complete back and get better at everything," he said. "We have to run, block and catch the ball out of the backfield."
Butler, a redshirt freshman, might not have the power of Wright, but has quick, slashing moves and has good pass-catching skills. Butler gained 100 yards on 19 carries in the Cherry-Silver Game this spring.
"I think I have the best hands," said Butler. "That can be important in this offense. The rotation right now is giving all of us a lot of snaps. I think any of us can go out and make big plays. There is a lot of talent in our backfield and we have such a good offensive line that we'll see a lot of holes. I think we all get to the holes fast and are capable of making plays."
The freshmen Locksley touted are Kasey Carrier and Demond Dennis. Carrier ran for 4,415 yards for Pearland (Texas) High. Dennis has looked scary-good at times in practice behind his combination of power and quick explosiveness. The Lobo have a different type of talent in 6-foot-2 fullback Josh Fussell, who has good hands and is one of the better blocking backs in this talented group of Lobos.
The Lobos have had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past seven years, but unless Locksley sees a workhorse separate himself from the pack, UNM might be looking at a group of Lobos churning out the yards this season. And that includes the quarterback position.
"We have a lot of guys with different skills, who complement each other," said Wright. "We have depth and I think we'll be able to wear defenses out and get some big runs especially toward the end of the half or late in the fourth quarter."
WHY NO TV
The Big 12 would not give UNM permission to televise the game since another Big 12 team (Oklahoma vs. BYU) is on national TV at the same time as the Lobos and Texas A&M.
Locksley is quick to remind Lobo fans that the running game is alive and well in his no-huddle, multi-Lobo attack. This isn't an offense that just throws out four receivers and darkens the sky with footballs.
"We are going to run the ball," he said. "We will do whatever we have to do, run or pass, to move the football and win games. Our plan is to get the ball to our most productive playmakers. If one of our running backs establishes himself as a top playmaker, then that means he has to touch the ball and that means running the ball.
"We strive for balance. Balance means being able to pass the ball and run the ball well and going to the strength that is most effective during a certain time or maybe a certain game. There are times to run it and times to throw it and you are going to have to be ready to do both well."