Oct. 24, 2010
Saturday: San Diego State 30, Lobos 20
Up Next: Lobos at Colorado State, Oct. 30, 4 p.m.
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Unfortunately, Lobo Anthony Hooks was right when he said before San Diego State's visit that it was "little things" that stood between the Lobos and a few victories this season.
The little things rose up to bite the Lobos Saturday in University Stadium as New Mexico dropped a 30-20 Mountain West Conference game and fell to 0-7 on the season. It was a game in which the score probably reflected the difference between Lobos and Aztecs on this night, but if UNM could have erased a few "little things," this game might have had a different ending.
One little thing turned out to be a huge thing and maybe even a backbreaker. The Lobos were looking to go into halftime down 10-6 and were punting the ball away to the Aztecs with 13 ticks left in the second quarter.
The Lobos probably made a little mistake in downing the punt too quickly, but worse than that was the distance of the punt. Ben Skaer's boot went for a positive 11 yards and handed the ball over to San Diego State at the UNM 40-yard line with five seconds left to go.
Everybody in the stadium pretty much knew what was coming and Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley didn't disappoint anyone. He fell back into the SDSU pocket and hurled the ball about as far as he could.
It came down in the Lobo end zone. It came down into the hands of Aztec DeMarco Sampson, who somehow had slipped behind the Lobos' prevent defense. The Aztecs are now 5-2 overall and a win away from being bowl eligible.
"Our punter didn't execute the rugby-style punt," said Lobo coach Mike Locksley. "They were able to take a shot into the end zone. Their player went up and made the play. We were in position, but we didn't make the play."
It was a blow and a score that could have demoralized the Lobos, but it really didn't. However, it did damage the Lobos on the scoreboard. The Aztecs did manage to turn those seven points that should not have happened into a cushion the remainder of the game.
"The bad punt led to us not making a play in the end zone on the Hail Mary," said Locksley. "The big thing we talked to our team about was when we are in position to make plays, it's time to grow up and make the play. We had a guy in position to knock the ball down and their guy went up and took the ball out of the air and made the play."
The Lobos hurt themselves by not making a few big plays, but there were a lot of positive things Saturday night for the Lobos to build on and take to Fort Collins, Colo., when New Mexico visit's the Colorado State team that UNM beat in 2009.
Lobo sophomore quarterback B.R. Holbrook returned to the huddle and was steady going 11-of-27 through the air for 124 yards and a touchdown.
Lobo linebacker Carmen Messina, not yet 100 percent from an ankle sprain, came up with 14 tackles.
Halfback James Wright bulled for 61 yards on 11 carries.
Lobo kicker James Aho finally got a chance to remind Lobo fans that UNM has one of the top kickers in the nation as he banged in field goals of 45 and 25 yards.
But maybe the highlight film from this game was Lobo tight end Lucas Reed. The freshman All-American looked pretty much like a sophomore All-American Saturday night. He hauled in six passes for 100 yards including UNM's only two touchdowns on the night.
Lucas pulled in a 25-yard TD pass from Holbrook in the third quarter and highlighted a Brad Gruner-led drive in the fourth quarter by hauling in an 18-yard TD pass from Gruner. The senior hurler went 4-of-9 for 69 yards.
"That says something about Brad," Locksley said of UNM`s 11 play, 81-yard drive that ended in the Aztecs` end zone with 14 seconds to play. "We are fortunate to have a guy like Brad, who whenever you call his number, he's ready to go out there. He has been a very selfless player for our team.
"It was good to have B.R. back. We were able to get back to opening up our offense to where we could run our full offensive sets and schemes."
The Aztecs out gained the Lobos with 384 total yards with 135 coming on the ground and 249 coming through the air. UNM had 308 yards with 110 rushing and 198 passing.
A critical stat for the Lobos was converting 1-of-12 third down opportunities. The Aztecs converted 7-of-19.
"We weren't very good on third downs on the offensive side of the ball, and we gave up too many cheap plays," said Locksley. UNM was penalized 10 times to five for SDSU. The Aztecs won the time-of-possession battle, 34:07 to 25:53 for UNM. The Lobos held SDSU's sensational freshman, Ronnie Hillman, to 69 yards on 18 carries. The Aztecs dynamic receving duo of Sampson and Vincent Brown went seven for 127 yards and seven for 85 yards, respectively.
"This is about the third game where our defense has really done some good things and mostly in the run game," said Locksley. "We still have up some big plays, especially the one right before the half, which was critical."
The play of the UNM defense even got the attention of SDSU coach Brady Hoke: "Defensively I thought they played pretty salty. They came after us a little bit and maybe showed some more pressure than they had earlier."