STEVENS: Lobos Look For A Shift in Playing Field at Wyoming
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/08/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 8, 2009

Lobo Football
Lobos at Wyoming
When/Where: 12:06 p.m., Saturday, Laramie
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM, Lobo Radio Network
TV: The Mtn (Comcast 276, DirecTV 616)
Online: GameTracker, game story on GoLobos.com

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

On a chilly, if not semi-frozen, piece of tundra called Jonah Field, the University of New Mexico Lobos are hoping the earth will move along with the numbers' column on the UNM side of the scoreboard.

A small earthquake in Laramie, Wyo., is something the Lobos probably need -- a subtle shift in the playing field that will bring New Mexico on a level plane with the enemy standing across the line of scrimmage.

The Lobos had this level field of talent once before and let it slip away in a 20-17 heartbreaker to New Mexico State. The young Lobos, in their first season under coach Mike Locksley, were not on fair turf with Texas A&M, Tulsa, Air Force or Texas Tech.

The playing field shifts again Saturday in Laramie when the Lobos battle the Cowboys on their homecoming day. But has the field shifted enough to give the 0-5 Lobos a shot at their first victory under Locks?

"There are very few teams left that, when I look at the schedule, I'd say we may be (outmanned against)," Locksley said this week at his media luncheon. "I think we're a little bit more evenly matched with Wyoming."

The Cowboys aren't world beaters, but they have done something the Lobos have yet to do in 2009: win a football game. Actually, the `Pokes are 3-2 under first-year coach Dave Christensen. Yeah, that's nice, but if you probe into these wins a bit, it's fair to place some footnotes next to those wins and raise Lobo hopes for an upset.

The `Pokes beat Weber State and Florida Atlantic by a combined nine points. These are not major-college powers. They will not pass "Go." They will not play in the Rose Bowl. Wyoming got a Mountain West Conference win 30-27 over a UNLV team that lost 63-28 to Nevada. The Rebs turned the ball over four times to zero for the `Pokes.

Still, the Cowboys know how to win. This can be important especially on your home turf in front of that homecoming crowd hoping to go to the big dance wearing victory smiles.

The Cowboys play rough and tough and they have some talent. Junior David Leonard averages 7.6 grabs per game to rank as the No. 1 receiver in the MWC and No. 9 in the nation. He had 13 catches vs. Florida Atlantic and 38 on the year. The Lobos need to watch this `Poke.

Wyoming likes balance on offense - power and finesse - but the success of freshman QB Austyn Carta-Samuels has given the `Pokes a semi-unexpected lift via the pass. The Cowboys average 142.8 yards on the ground and 200.2 yards through the air for a 343 total.

Wyoming throws out a lot of youth in Carta-Samuels, but the young Cowboy has earned his spurs completing 61.7 percent of his passes for 751 yards with three TDs and one pick. UNM's Porterie is throwing at a 59 percent clip with three scores and three interceptions.

Coach Christensen said Carta-Samuels' stats are "pretty amazing" for a true freshman. The `Pokes QB also has 153 yards rushing on the season, despite losing 78 on sacks and such. Alverster Alexander is a decent back. He averages 4.6 yards per carry. Brandon Stewart gives Wyoming another threat out of the backfield, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Carta-Samuels and the Wyoming O-line should be severely tested by a Lobo defense that does a good job getting to and harassing a QB. The top Lobo headhunters are Johnathan Rainey with 6.5 sacks and Jaymar Latchison with 3.5 QB grabs.

Said Locksley: "Jonathan Rainey's a guy we've talked about for five straight weeks, from the Texas A&M game until now, being in my mind one of the better defensive ends, not just in this conference, but in the country."

"Does it surprise me about the D-line?" Locksley continued. "No, because they're being coached by one of the best D-line coaches in the country in Rubin Carter."

The `Pokes also are having some success on the D side and pride themselves on fielding an aggressive defense that gets to the ball. Wyoming is the only team in the nation with three players ranked in the Top 30 of the NCAA charts: Gabe Knapton (LB), Brian Hendricks (LB) and Chris Prosinki (DB).

That trio is No. 2, 3 and 4 in the MWC behind UNM's Carmen Messina, who also is No. 1 in the nation. Wyoming's Shamiel Gary (DB) is No. 6 in the league.

"Defensively, they're still a Wyoming-tough team that plays hard," said Locksley. "We`re going to have a tremendous challenge, but we're excited about it."

The Lobos head to Laramie limping a bit in the backfield with Demond Dennis nursing a slight tear in his meniscus (knee) and James Wright recovering from a hamstring pull. The Lobos' depth in the backfield was displayed at Texas Tech when red shirt freshman A.J. Butler scrambled for 101 yards. Butler is scheduled to start at Wyoming.

Locksley said some of the keys to a victory in Laramie are getting off to a good start, maintaining consistency and eliminating turnovers. "When good things happen, we play really good and we feed off of it," he said. "The flip side is that when bad things happen they tend to multiply."

Still, the best news for the Lobos in Laramie might be that the ground has shifted and the talent level wobbles closer to the dead-even mark. That shift continues for the Lobos next game, too -- at home (Oct. 24) against the UNLV team that lost 63-28.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner