Stevens: Winless Lobos Heading Toward Unhappy SDSU Aztecs
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/02/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 2, 2011

New Mexico Lobos Football - On The Mountain West Road


6 p.m. (MT), Lobos at San Diego State Aztecs
On The Air: The Mtn-TV; 770-AM KKOB, Lobo Radio Network
GoLobos.com:Game Story, Stats, Quotes, Lobo TV

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

San Diego State is not happy. Aztec head man Rocky Long is not happy. They need someone, anyone, to take out their frustrations on and here comes the 0-8 New Mexico Lobos.

This might not be such a good deal - for Lobos.

The Aztecs didn't exactly hit bottom last week in their 30-27 stumble in Qualcomm Stadium to the surprising Wyoming Cowboys, but this one hurt. The Aztecs got bowled over by an unexpected Wyoming wave that probably had Long sputtering like a California surfer rolled under by a sea wave.

The Aztecs were on their way to a special season in 2011 before Wyoming pulled the plug. This loss stung even more because the Aztecs probably played well enough to win - especially on offense.

You get 500 yards in total offense and 224 yards on the ground from stud running back Ronnie Hillman and you should win.

Well, if the defense shows up, too. That was the Aztecs' problem with Wyoming. They fell into a 30-13 first-half whirlpool and couldn't swim back on top, missing key field goals down the stretch.

But the Aztecs still could throw out a semi-special season and the visiting Lobos are the first hurdle in that path. If you don't think SDSU can upset Boise State, then you might be looking at a 4-1 finish for the Aztecs.

The Aztecs also will play UNM, Colorado State, UNLV and Fresno. There are a lot of potential wins there and a 4-1 finish is possible. That would drop an 8-4 season into Long's lap. That would mean postseason play.

The Aztecs have to be licking their chops eyeing the visit by UNM. The Lobos have lost 34 of their past 36 games and have been outscored 42-0, 69-0 and 49-7 in their past three games.

The Lobos are struggling to find answers on both sides of the ball, and those answers might have to wait until UNM finds its new head coach.

Long left UNM three seasons ago to become an assistant at SDSU and became the head man at the end of last year when Brady Hoke bolted for Michigan. Long inherited a talented bunch of Aztecs.

Two of the Aztecs he inherited are among the top players in the Mountain West: Hillman and quarterback Ryan Lindley, a four-year starter in the pocket. Hillman is performing like one of the top running backs in the nation. He averages 151 yards rushing per game to lead the country.

Lindley hasn't yet played up to his potential in 2011, but that's more an issue of consistency. He can still be brilliant. He also can be so-so. He was so-so in the loss to Wyoming, completing 13 of 27 passes for 247 yards with one pick.

Long said in the Mountain West teleconference that his "team right now is struggling."

"Any time you lose, it's hard on the players, the coaches, the fans," he said. "It's hard on everybody, and the only way to get over it is to practice hard, prepare and get ready for the next game."

That's what the Lobos are doing, too. "I'm going out there expecting to win," said Lobo linebacker Carmen Messina. "I've never expected anything less when I step onto a football field."

Still, it will be tough for the Lobos to come up with their first win of the season in San Diego. The 4-3 Aztecs picked up three of their wins against Washington State, Army and Air Force (41-27). UNM is coming off a 42-0 loss to Air Force.

The Falcons' option ran up 335 yards on the Lobos, and it is reasonable to expect the Lobos to see a lot of SDSU's Hillman on Saturday. If Lindley raises his game to a high level, the multi-dimensional potential of the Aztecs could light up the scoreboard.

Lindley is a bit banged up after the Wyoming game, and the status of an injured foot could limit his time against the Lobos. He is expected to play. He might not be required to do more than hand the ball off to Hillman.

The Aztecs' passing numbers are a shade down from 2010, which has pulled down their total-offense numbers. SDSU averaged 456.7 yards a year ago and is riding a 415.0 pace into the Lobo game. The Aztecs average 219.6 yards passing.

A factor in those numbers is losing DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown to the NFL. The Aztecs also lost three promising receiver to academics or injury.

Lindley might not have the same good-hands people to toss to this season, but his arm is a key to Aztec success. SDUS is 3-0 when the big boy completes more than 50 percent of his passes. It is 1-3 when he dips below that number.

The Air Force Falcon's passing game wasn't a factor in their win over UNM. The Falcons threw three passes and ran the ball 61 times.

With Hillman's 6.2 yards per carry average in the backfield, Lindley might be able to stay on the sidelines with his foot in a hot tub.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. He can be reached at rstevens50@comcast.net