Nov. 6, 2009
Saturday: Lobos at Utah, 4 p.m., Salt Lake City
Online: GameTracker, game story on GoLobos.com
TV: The Mtn (Comcast 276, DirecTV 616)
Radio: 770-AM KKOB; Lobo Radio Network
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Lobos march into Salt Lake City to face the No. 14-ranked (BCS) team in the nation clinging to flashes of optimism, some recent improvement, and the eternal hope carried in the hearts of most athletes.
But is that enough good stuff to take on the Mountain West Conference road and slap down a MWC bully in its own back yard?
"We've got a tough challenge ahead of us this week with a team that's ranked," said Lobo coach Mike Locksley. "It`s a Utah team that perennially is one of the top teams, not only in our conference, but in the country.
"We have a heck of a challenge going up to Salt Lake City."
At this point of the season and shouldering the frustrations that come with an 0-8 record, the Lobos are just looking for some way to scratch a "W" onto that empty side of their ledger. Utah is not a good place to find that positive notch, but that's where the Lobos are on Saturday.
This Utah team has won 21 of its past 22 games and 28 of 30. Yep, Utah is more than good and probably is the most balanced team the Lobos have faced so far this season. The Utes are outstanding on both sides of the ball, but just might be tougher on the defensive side.
"They have probably the best defense I've seen and the thing that stands out about Utah's defense is their athleticism," said Locksley. "Not only in their front seven, but the secondary too."
The odds obviously lean toward a Ute program on a roll. The Lobos are struggling with eight straight MWC loses and eight straight MWC road losses. The Lobos are heavy underdogs, but part of their optimism stems from improved play in a loss at San Diego State and a history of success against Utah.
A season ago, the Lobo team that stumbled to a 4-8 mark under Rocky Long played a Utah team in Albuquerque that roared to a 13-0 season. The Utes won 13-10, scoring a single touchdown. The Lobos haven't done badly against the Utes over the past two seasons and stand 2-2 over that span.
Here are two other sweet flashbacks to throw at the upset-minded Lobos. In 2003, the Lobos handed Urban Meyer is only defeat in his two-year hi-and-goodbye career as a Ute. In 1994, the 3-6 Lobos beat an undefeated Utah team.
Locksley says there might be something to grab at in that favorable history. Obviously, in the past, the Lobos have gotten up to play the nationally ranked Utes. Locksley also is hoping the fight the Lobos threw at Utah in 2008 is still there on Saturday.
Possibly, the Lobos will be aided by some juggling in the Utah pocket. Utah freshman QB Jordan Wynn replaced starter Terrance Cain in the second half at Wyoming and rallied the struggling Utes to a 22-10 win. It wasn't exactly a dominating statement on the scoreboard for the 7-1 Utes.
Locksley said there is some concern in preparation over which Ute had the huddle vs. the Lobos. It might even be a two-headed thing. "If Wynn starts,," said Locksley, `We'll have to quickly evaluate how they are using him and make the necessary adjustments."
The best adjustment would be to get to Wynn -- or Cain -- before they can release the football. The Lobos have some attackers good at getting to the QB. Carmen Messina, Johnathan Rainey and Jaymar Latchison combine for 14 sacks. Rainey has seven.
The Utes also were paced by Eddie Wide, who tied a school record with his fifth-straight 100-yard rushing game. The Utes' defense got five sacks and held the `Pokes to 202 total yards -- 74 in the second half.
The Lobos face that dual challenge. A Utah team that is good with a ball-control offense. A Utah defense that shuts teams down. Utah likes to run the ball. The Utes average 178.9 yards per game on the ground. They toss for 214.2. Teams have to concentrate on stopping that run attack, which helps the Utes hurt teams through the air.
The Utes yield 135.8 yards on the run and 159.2 in the air. That's good balance, too. Locksley multi-Lobo, no-huddle attack will have to be sharp, not simply in moving the ball, but being consistent enough to move it into scoring territory. The Utes get nasty in the red zone. They yield only 16.8 points per game.
No doubt, it's going to be tough to march into Salt Lake City and pull the upset. The Lobos are encouraged by their tough 23-20 loss at San Diego State this past Saturday. The Lobos dominated the statistical battle, but lost on the scoreboard.
"Except for maybe one game this year, I've thought that our team has shown up and has competed for four quarters in every game," said Locksley. " To me that shows the character of this team and the senior leadership we're getting in terms of our guys not quitting.
They've had every opportunity to do that, but I thought we played our best game last week versus San Diego State. It was the first game this season in which we didn't have a turnover, it was probably the second or third game where we controlled the time of possession, and it was by far our best day of converting third downs
That allowed us to sustain drives. And (senior QB) Donovan Porterie is probably playing his best football now."
To slap a number on the win side of their ledger, the Lobos probably will need Porterie to have his best game of the season -- and be joined by a whole lot of other Lobos.
"To go and beat a team like Utah, we've got to take our opportunities and make some opportunities," said Locksley.