Stevens: Wyoming Hopes To Give A Cold Welcome To Lobos
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/18/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 18, 2011

New Mexico Lobos Football - On The Mountain West Road

Saturday: Noon (MT), Lobos at Wyoming Cowboys - War Memorial Stadium
On The Air: The Mtn-TV; 770-AM KKOB, Lobo Radio Network
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In their list of must-bring things to accompany them on their trip to Laramie, Wyo., Lobo coach George Barlow is hoping he can leave the snow shovels behind.

"I just hope we don't have a blizzard like the last time we were up there," said Barlow.

Even if the snow stays off the field at War Memorial Stadium, that doesn't mean the Lobos won't be bringing gloves, heaters and blankets -- plus some warm and fuzzy thoughts of an upset.

Maybe the Lobos should haul new head coach Bob Davie up North. Get the new guy used to some of the exotic ports of call in the Mountain West. Davie was announced as the Lobos new head coach on Thursday. He'll probably be happier just watching tape of UNM/Wyoming game - especially if snow comes to play, too.

The pressure of a winless season was removed for the Lobos with their gutsy 21-14 win over UNLV this past Saturday in University Stadium. They look to make it two in a row. "Our kids are excited about their win and they think they can get another," said Barlow.

Of course, that will be tough. The Cowboys are piecing together a bowl-eligible season, but one piece is still missing. The `Pokes need one more win since their 6-3 mark includes two wins over smaller-division schools.

The Cowboys probably can't count on a win Nov. 26 at Boise State and their border rivalry Dec. 3 at Colorado State is often an intense and unpredictable affair.

You have to figure the Cowboys are looking at the Lobos' visit as exactly what it is: a game and a win that could guarantee bowl-eligible status.

The Cowboys are favored in this contest for a number of reasons besides the home-field edge. They won at San Diego State where the Lobos lost. They won at Air Force and UNM lost to the Falcons in Albuquerque. Wyoming also threw out a respectable 31-20 loss to TCU.

Simply put: the Cowboys are playing football at a higher level than are the Lobos. But will it be that way Saturday in Laramie?

The Cowboys are excelling in two key areas of football: turnover margin and quarterback success. Wyoming is No. 2 in the national stats in turnover margin with 24 coming to Wyoming and 10 going the other way.

"When you are getting that many takeaways, you win games," said Barlow.

The Cowboys also have a freshman sensation in quarterback Brett Smith, who is second in the Mountain West in total offense at 265.8 yards per game behind Boise State's Kellen Moore. Smith is No. 3 in the MW in passing, averaging 223.8 yards per game.

"Their quarterback does an exceptional job, especially for a freshman," said Barlow. "He has been really effective. Their overall scheme is really good and he's making plays within that scheme."

The three MW quarterbacks getting most of the publicity are Moore, Casey Pachall of TCU and Ryan Lindley of San Diego State. Smith and CSU's Pete Thomas are billed as the up-and-coming stars.

But Smith isn't waiting around for next year. Smith's play is one reason the Cowboys are expected to play in postseason this year. Wyoming also can be sort of an inspiration for the Lobos of the Bob Davie era.

A season back, UNM's only win came over Wyoming. The `Pokes stumbled in and out of the 2010 season and their turnaround in 2011 is impressive, especially with wins at SDSU and at Air Force. And this change came about in Laramie, surely not a destination site in most people's minds.

Is there any reason the Lobos can't expect the same turnaround in 2012?

Getting to Smith (or containing Smith) is the key for UNM on Saturday. If Wyoming has its druthers, the Cowboys' attack will be balanced. They average 181.4 yards on the ground and complement that with 231.2 yards through the air for a 412.7 total average.

"They do a great job in keeping you off balance," said Barlow. "They have a lot of formations."

The multiple looks tossed out by Wyoming are designed to fool a defense. They might run out of one formation a couple of times and then Smith might pull back into a play-action pass out of that same look. The freshman does a good job in reading defenses.

Wyoming gives up an average of 240.6 yards on the ground, but that figure might be slightly misleading based on the running games the `Pokes have faced so far in 2011. Wyoming yields 445.2 total yards on defense. UNM bends at a 490.0 rate.

The Cowboys' forte on defense is taking the ball away. They have recovered 16 fumbles and have eight interceptions.

"We cut down on mistakes against UNLV and that helped us stay in the game and get the win," said Barlow. "We can't go into Laramie and help them."

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