Sept. 24, 2010
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The game is huge, pivotal, critical and only diehard Lobo or Rebel fans would think that urgency has anything to do with a Mountain West title.
The urgency here is simply to stop the bleeding, stop the hurt, stop the losing.
"Both teams are hungry for their first win," said Lobo receiver Chris Hernandez. "It's going to be a battle."
The key stat going into this 8 p.m. (MT) kickoff Saturday in Las Vegas is 0-6. That's the combined records of New Mexico Lobos and UNLV Rebs. Sure, it's possible that one of these teams can post a win, right the wobbly boat, and challenge for a MWC title. There are plenty of games to play.
But for four quarters in Las Vegas' Sam Boyd Stadium all the Lobos and Rebs will be thinking of is win, win, win to offset what they have done so far this season --- lose, lose, lose.
"This will be a pretty good barometer," said Lobo coach Mike Locksley. "We expect to get a heck of a battle from them knowing what's at stake for both programs."
So, what's at stake? For sure, the winner can dream and scheme of rolling out six wins this season and scratching its way into the postseason fun. The winner might even get giddy and think a loss to Utah doesn't mean the MWC title also is lost.
The loser will take a major psychological blow and a major physical blow to its won-lost column. Can you lose to Rebs - or Lobos -- and really expect to go 6-2 ((6-3 for UNLV) the rest of the season in order to become bowl eligible?
That would require a lot of dreaming for either team. UNM ends the season at Air Force, at Brigham Young and home against No. 4/5 TCU. Those are MWC bullies. There also are a few decent MWC teams in the way: San Diego State, Wyoming, Colorado State.
UNLV faces the same MWC teams plus No. 22/21 West Virginia, Nevada and Hawaii. The Lobos have UTEP and New Mexico State in non-conference action.
Somewhere, somebody is labeling this a "must-win" for both Lobos and Rebels. It also is a game that appears to be winnable for both teams.
"We're putting the past few weeks behind us and moving forward trying to get a victory," said Johnathan Rainey, a Lobo defensive end.
The Lobos and the Rebs really didn't have good shots at winning earlier this season, but they both came out stumbling which led to disaster on the scoreboard.
UNM lost to nationally-ranked Oregon and Utah, and also to a Texas Tech team that could be Top 20 before the season ends. The Lobos gave up 180 points in three games. UNLV lost to nationally-ranked Utah and Wisconsin, and at Idaho, a solid team.
The Rebs and the Lobos have played badly, played not-smart football, handed games over with mistakes and poor play on special teams. Both teams eye the other as their best chance so far to crack the win column. One team will be happy late Saturday night and the other team will be 0-4.
The Rebs are favored. They are home and they haven't been pounded as badly as the Lobos have been pounded. They played Utah better statistically and didn't look all that bad against Wisconsin.
The Lobos also are without their No. 1 quarterback, B.R. Holbrook, who is having a knee scoped to see if he can even play football again this season. UNM will start either senior Brad Gruner or true freshman Tarean Austin.
The Rebs might be a little more solid at the QB spot even though their No. 1 man going into the season, Mike Clausen, is now a defender. Vegas does have a senior Omar Clayton as a solid fallback, but he was benched against Idaho in favor of redshirt freshman Caleb Herring.
The quarterback position might come with a revolving door on Saturday.
Surely, both the Lobos and the Rebs will be hoping to get their running games untracked to take pressure off the QB position. The Rebs average 91 yards rushing per game and 2.6 yards per carry. This is bad. The Lobos are worse at 63.7 and 2.0 per carry.
However, just like the win column will light up for one of these teams, it's realistic to expect the rushing numbers will improve, too. UNM gives up 536.7 total yards per game and UNLV is at 381.7 yards.
This is a game in which both teams can expect better success on both sides of the ball. The difference probably will come down to special teams, mistakes and big plays.
It is a game that both teams need to win and neither team can really afford to lose. The loser of this game will be 0-4 and will not be favored in many - if any -- games the rest of the season. Heck, it might be that way for the winner, too.