New Mexico Lobos Football – At Pittsburgh Panthers
When/Where: 10:30 a.m. (MT), Saturday ---- Heinz Field – Pittsburgh, Pa.
On The Air: ESPN3, My50-TV – 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Complete Statistics, LoboTV
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
As a Lobo fan, it’s easy to push aside the Xs and Os of New Mexico’s sojourn into the East Coast time zone and dive into the plush fringes of specialness that attach themselves to the Lobos’ battle with the Panthers of Pittsburgh.
This is a neat game – a game of Xs and Os, inches and playmaking, but also atmosphere.
“It’s challenging to head back east and play an ACC team, but it’s exciting to play in a pro stadium and get a chance to play in a different part of the country,” said Lobo Coach Bob Davie. “It’s neat that those guys (East Coast Lobos) get a shot to play in Pittsburgh.”
The Lobos head into the heart of a big-time city to play in a big-time stadium in front of a crowd of big-time sports fans. Pittsburgh brings all of that.
The Steel City is one of the heartbeats for a sports-crazed state that divides its affection between Steelers, Eagles, Phillies, Pirates, Penguins, 76ers, but also makes a big room for Panthers and Nittany Lions.
The Panther fans that pack into Heinz Field on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET) will be rabid for their Panthers and eyeing the Lobos as a means to ease some of the pain from Pittsburgh’s 41-13 ESPN loss to powerful Florida State.
Heinz Field is a special venue. The replacement field for Three Rivers Stadium rocks with tradition. The Steelers share this turf with the Panthers. The stadium sits like a steel sentinel (12,000 tons of steel in its design) overlooking the confluence of the Ohio River and the Allegheny.
The stadium also guards its Panthers. The stadium is a beaut, but it also will turn ugly for Panther enemies. This is a game the Panthers need. An 0-and-2 start would be a crushing early-season blow.
Coach Davie says most of the supplementary factors that pop up prior to a game disappear at contact. “It really doesn’t matter who you’re playing or where you’re playing,” he said.
True. However, the adrenalin pumps that come from walking into Heinz Field are a solid foundation for a hard-hitting game.
Of course, there are interesting aspects of this game that will emerge after kickoff. The Lobos are expected to give junior Clayton Mitchem his second start as a Lobo. He did well in UNM’s 42-35 overtime win at UTEP. He was efficient, confident and his team left the field a winner behind an overpowering running game.
“I liked the way he handled himself,” Davie said of Mitchem.
Sophomore Cole Gautsche, UNM’s starter in the season opener vs. UTSA, has been cleared to play. He sat out the UTEP game with concussion-like symptoms. He might still be ahead of Mitchem in his knowledge of UNM’s “pistol” offense, but the Lobos might have to pass the ball more against Pittsburgh
Mitchem has the aerial edge. Florida State had 377 passing yards over the Panthers’ defense that was not happy with those numbers.
But can the Panthers’ defense force the Lobos to go over the top? Obviously, the Lobos’ first choice is their bread-and-butter option. They want to run.
The Panthers have seen the film on New Mexico and have had two weeks to prepare for the option that rolled out 395 yards vs. the Miners with Kasey Carrier picking up 291 yards. The Lobos were machine-like in their domination of that trench in El Paso’s Sun Bowl.
Of course, the trenches will be a key in Pittsburgh. It will be interesting to see what the Panthers do on defense. The Miners were not willing to take the defensive gambles to stack the line and they paid the price.
A lot of teams made the same mistake in 2012 against the Lobos. It’s kind of an ego thing. Opposing coaches felt their defensive personnel could beat the Lobos up front one-on-one without distorting their shape and a lot of teams couldn’t do it. Some could.
So, what are the Panthers of the ACC – the Panthers of the BCS – planning to do about this running team from New Mexico? Can they beat the Lobos up front without making major adjustments? We’ll find out Saturday.
The Lobos have a few Panthers to worry about, too. “Obviously this will be the most talented team we’ve played – on both sides of the football,” said Davie.
The Panthers look to add balance to their attack and quarterback Tom Savage is the key. He was a highly-recruited arm out of Springfield, Pa., and was rated the No. 3 pro-style prep quarterback in the nation by one scouting service.
He went to Rutgers, transferred to Arizona and came home to Pittsburgh in 2010. At Rutgers, he threw for the most passing yards and touchdowns by a true freshman quarterback in Big East history. He is good and might be better in Game Two of Pittsburgh’s season.
Until the Florida State game, two weeks back, he hadn’t played since his final game at Rutgers in 2010. His career-best completion game came at Rutgers – vs. Pittsburgh.
The 6-foot-5 Savage has some big targets, but the best is probably 6-4 Devin Street, who had six grabs for 141 yards against the FSU Seminoles. Coach Davie said he expects the Panthers to look for Street – and to often go deep. “I anticipate they’ll try to throw the ball down the field on us,” said Davie
Street had 73 receptions in 2012. Tyler Boyd also is a big-play threat for Pittsburgh.
Pitt looked good in taking a 7-0 lead over FSU on the Panthers’ opening drive, but didn’t have as much luck the rest of the way with an athletic Seminole defense. Pitt also allowed FSU quarterback Jameis Winston to go 25-of-27 passing for 356 yards and four scores. FSU scored 21 second-quarter points to grab a 28-10 halftime bulge.
Editor’s Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.