Sept. 18, 2009
What: Air Force at Lobos
When/Where: 5:30 p.m., Saturday, University Stadium
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM; Lobo Radio Network
TV: CBS College Sports (Comcast 274; DirecTV 613)
On line: GameTracker, results on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If New Mexico needs any extra motivation Saturday for the Mountain West Conference visit by Air Force, all the Lobos have to do is look down at their toes and count `em.
Then open their hands in front of their face and count those digits, too.
That's close to how many points the Air Force Falcons are favored by when they come into University Stadium to play the 0-2 Lobos.
Yeah, this is a slap to the Lobos' face. This is a stab at a UNM team that had yet to score a touchdown on offense, has given up 85 points in two games, and has a defense rated almost dead last in the nation. Which is about where the Lobos' offense is rated.
Sounds like a good wake-up call, huh? Sounds like a low-blow challenge to a determined and dedicated UNM team that also needs to take their turf with a little bit of an attitude and a whole lot of anger.
"We're ready. We're not giving up," said Frankie Baca, a senior safety.
The question really isn't whether or not the Lobos will play with effort in this MWC opener against the No. 1 rated rushing team in the nation. The Lobos have heart.
But are the Lobos good enough and disciplined enough to play with these flyboys from the Air Force Academy?
The game is the MWC opener for both teams. UNM is 0-2 and Air Force is 1-1. The Lobos, held to six first downs and 171 yards of total offense in a 44-10 loss to Tulsa, obviously need to jump start their offense.
The Lobos' running game also needs to show up for the 2009 season. UNM's running attack is rated 116 out of 120 major-college teams. The Lobos average 1.6 yards per carry and 38 yards per game.
If the Lobo quarterback position and the running game doesn't step it up, UNM's losing streak probably will stretch to seven games. Heck, it might stretch even if the Lobos play great. These flyboys from up North are nasty and efficient.
As much as anything, the Falcons try to beat you with a quality that lives at core of their being as soldiers: discipline. They try to run an option attack of precision and order and do it so quickly that the defenders on the other side of the line drift into disorder.
The Falcons don't necessarily seek or need chaos. They just need simple mistakes, a few missed tackles and they are on their way. They got this in a 72-0 win against Nicholls State; not so much in a 20-13 loss at Minnesota.
The Lobos know what the Falcons do. They have seen it before. Air Force has beaten the Lobos four out of the last five times.
"You have to be disciplined on defense," said Baca. "You have your one job and if you try to do someone else's job, that's where they get you with the big play-action pass or beat you with the option outside.
"You have to stay focused and know what you are doing at all times. They are waiting for someone to be undisciplined, so they can hit the big play on you."
What the Falcons do with their wicked wishbone/option is simple enough. It's a numbers' game. The Falcons try to throw more linemen and ball carriers into an area than there are defenders to stop `em. They try using five Os to beat four Xs.
They try to get defenders out of position. They try to get defenders to leave their assignment areas before that assignment is really over. Then Falcon quarterback Tim Jefferson has to make the correct read and get the football into that area.
The basics of the option are dive, keep or pitch. The Falcons average 5.5 yards per carry and 367.5 yards per game -- best in the NCAA.
Lobo linebacker Clint McPeek is humble, almost sheepish, about his success last year against the Falcons' attack. UNM's attacking 3-3-5 defense held Air Force to 228 total yards, 164 yards below its average. The Falcons went to the ground 69 times out of 72 plays, rushing for 227 yards. McPeek had 15 tackles.
He says he had success against the `bone because he stayed put.
"Anytime a team runs, it's good for linebackers. The ball will be coming at you," said McPeek. "Against Air Force, everyone has a specific job to do and everyone has to do their job and only their job.
"You can`t be worrying about what someone else is supposed to be doing. No matter what you see, you have to execute your assignment and not try to make someone else`s play. You are responsible for your play."
In a perfect world of disciplined defensive football, the Falcons' offense might be in trouble. But they seek imperfection.
They usually find it.
Lobo Stars: The UNM Players of The Game this past week against Tulsa were linebacker Tray Hardaway and tackle Kendall Briscoe on defense and Victor James on offense and special teams. Briscoe had a career-high three tackles for loss and forced the fumble that resulted in UNM's only TD. Hardaway, who had eight tackles, returned that loose ball 92 yards for the score. James had three receptions for 21 yards and a smashing tackle on a Tulsa kickoff return.
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. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner