Sept. 3, 2010
New Mexico at Oregon
When/Where: 1:30 p.m. (MT) Saturday, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM/Lobo Radio Network
TV: Comcast -- Channel 77
Online: GameTracker; game story, stats on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
On paper, it is a game, a stadium, a team that waits for New Mexico like a steel trap hiding in the path of a wolf. This season opener with Oregon will be a tough one for the Lobos. So many things are against them.
The Oregon Ducks, for sure, are the nastiest thing in the Lobos' path. They are loaded, cocky, and hungry to crack out of that lowly No. 11 spot in the national rankings and soar into the Top Ten. If they smash the Lobos, it could happen. It's what the Ducks want. They aren't thinking win. They are thinking big win.
The stadium is nasty, too. A visiting team can find few places in NCAA football more obnoxious and intimidating than Autzen Stadium and the loyal and sharp-tongued Duck fans. They have packed the joint to capacity for 68 consecutive games and have helped their team win 16 of the past 17 home openers.
"They are getting a lot of national hype and we know they are good," said Lobo defensive end Jaymar Latchison. "But we aren't going up there to roll over. They are going to have to beat us."
The Ducks probably are thinking, "No problem." After all, they have been picked to rule the Pac-10 for a second consecutive season, so how tough can a Lobo team be that is coming off a 1-11 season?
"We'll find out on Saturday, " said Lobo coach Mike Locksley, in his second season at UNM. "That's part of the anxiousness about this game, finding out where we are and how much we have improved and how much further we have to go.
"We know this is a tough challenge, but we also look at it as an opportunity."
One thing the 1:30 p.m. (MT) kickoff hands New Mexico is a chance for young players to go against one of the top teams in the nation and learn from the out-of-New Mexico experience. The Lobos are young, with 31 underclassmen listed on the 55-man depth chart. There are eight seniors on the two-deep on offense. There is one senior starter on defense.
The home of the Ducks is a tough place to take a bunch of Lobos pups, but it is what it is. "A lot of people are discounting us," said Latchison. "We'll see."
The Lobos go to Eugene with a gunslinger's confidence and the mindset of a gambler. Locksley said the Lobos have nothing to lose and will look to pull a few aces out of their sleeves in order to fool the Ducks and put points on the board. "We will hold back nothing," he said.
The Lobos have revved up their running game for the 2010 season and first-year starting quarterback B.R. Holbrook has looked super in fall drills -- going against Lobos. Things change in Eugene. The Ducks' defense looks more like eagles or jet fighters when they fly at quarterbacks.. They look to destroy.
"One key to the game will be the speed of it," said Darrell Dickey, UNM's offensive coordinator. "Oregon has outstanding speed. They are a very athletic group on defense and love to come with pressure. Their defense is based on everyone having speed.
"You might get them out of position a little bit, but they are so quick, they recover quickly. If you get an advantage, a chance to move the ball, you had better hit it and take advantage of that moment."
Of course, the Ducks' main target will be the unproven Holbrook. The sophomore clearly was UNM's top quarterback in the spring and fall, but he also is looking at making only his 35th toss as a Lobo when he throws his first pass in Eugene. Holbrook can't wait.
"This is the day you dream about as a kid," Holbrook said of the Duck challenge and his first collegiate start. "I'm excited. We believe we can play with anybody. If we do what we are capable of doing, we are a tough team to stop."
Ditto for Oregon. The Ducks have averaged 43.2 points in the past five home openers. A key vs. UNM will be the Ducks playing a first-year QB and playing without their leading rusher, LaMichael James (1,546 yards in 2009), who is suspended for Game One.
The Lobos have the same opportunity and the same plan for Ducks' sophomore QB, Darron Thomas. Put pressure on him. Bring him down. Which makes the running game a key factor for both teams. If you can move the ball on the ground, the passing game and unproven quarterbacks become less of a factor.
The Lobos obviously are a better and deeper team than what hit the field in Locksley's first season at UNM. But this is still a young and depth-challenged team. What the Lobos do take to Oregon is a confidence level that will go eye-to-eye with what Oregon brings.
"You have to go up there believing and we do," said Locksley. "But a lot of believing comes from the process of preparation and knowing you are going to give great effort and have great discipline. We have to handle this challenge with poise and great communication."
For sure, the Ducks are believing, preparing and thinking the same stuff. It's what football players and football teams do. A moral victory in this game would come from playing the Ducks close on an Oregon turf where so many good teams fall into the Ducks' trap.
The Lobos aren't thinking of "close." Said Lobo Bubba Forrest: "We are going to their house and we know we have to play phenomenally well to win. But we expect to win."
Said Locksley: "I don't believe in moral victories. I wasn't hired to get moral victories."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.