New Mexico Lobos Football – On The Mountain West Road
When/Who: 2 p.m. (MT) Saturday, New Mexico at Fresno State
On The Air: ESPNews (TV); 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Complete Stats, LoboTV
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Maybe it’s fair and accurate to say the Lobos limp toward the undefeated (9-0) Fresno State Bulldogs since New Mexico is minus so many players including the Lobos’ top producing offensive stars – quarterback Cole Gautsche and tailback Kasey Carrier.
And more than a few Lobos will play through bumps and bruises.
But these Lobos are not going into this Mountain West game planning to roll over. There is no damage to character or spirit.
"I’ve always been a guy who believed in having a plan and then every day you work at that plan,and that’s what this is,” said Lobo Coach Bob Davie.
“There are always times in coaching where you have to weather it and get through it, and that’s the reality of what this is.”
The No. 15/16 Bulldogs are heavily favored. They became more favored when Davie announced that his No. 1 (Carrier) and No. 2 (Gautsche) runners would sit out with concussion symptoms. There is a lot riding on the game for the ‘Dogs of Fresno.
They are chasing a Mountain West division title, an undefeated season and a berth in a big-money BCS bowl. Heck, it’s even Senior Day. It’s somewhat of a surprise that the major of Fresno didn’t declare Saturday “Bulldog Day.”
“That’s a BCS-caliber talent team,” said Davie.
The Lobos will try to wreck Fresno’s plans starting Clayton Mitchem in the pocket. The junior did well in the second half vs. Colorado State. Against Fresno, he likely needs to be sharp with the option and the pass.
“He has a little different skill set because he hasn’t been here as long as Cole,” said Davie. “We’re always going to have the triple-option. We’re always going to have the presentation of the triple-option, but I doubt we’ll run it in as many phases as we do with Cole.
“There’s always the threat (of a fumble) with Clayton in there because he hasn’t had as many reps doing it. So we’ll tweak it a little.”
Mitchem will need help from his backfield. Gongbay has skills. He has averaged 7.0 yards per carry which is better than both Carrier and Gautsche, who have more carries than Gongbay. Carrier is at 1,122 yards (5.9 per carry) and Gautsche is at 777 (6.6 per carry). Gongbay has 461 yards.
There are some solid runners behind Gongbay in Carlos Wiggins (237 yards, 18.2 per carry), Jhurell Pressley (163, 8.6), Teriyon Gipson (138, 6.6) and David Anaya (99, 12.4). These runners have lived in Carrier’s and Gautsche’s shadows. Those shadows won’t be there on Saturday vs. Fresno.
Mitchem is actually fourth on the team in carries with 40. He averages only 1.1 yards per carry, but sacks have hurt that average. He is 31-of-57 passing with no interceptions. He averages 41.2 yards per game, but has made a number of impressive throws this season.
“I’m encouraged by him,” Coach Davie said of Mitchem. “You look at the way he played against San Diego State at the end of the game, and he played the whole second half the other night (vs. CSU) and he has got some skills.“
Obviously, a huge key is the Lobo defense going against one of the top offenses in the nation. This probably is an offense that is looking to put some points on the board in Fresno State’s race to make a BCS bowl.
The UNM defense yields an average of 39.9 points and is ranked No. 117 out of 123 teams in scoring defense. The Lobos are No. 115 in total defense with an average yield of 494.2 yards. Fresno State is No. 5 in the NCAA in total offense (546.6 yards).
The Bulldogs are No. 7 in the nation in scoring at 44.3 points per game. They average 546.7 total yards and 384 yards passing.
Quarterback Derek Carr is outstanding and a legitimate threat for the 2014 Heisman Trophy. He ranked No. 2 nationally averaging 380.1 passing yards a game. He has tossed for 32 touchdowns and has thrown 229 passes without an interception. He has given up four picks on the year. He completes 69.5 percent of his passes.
“He’s really good,” said Davie. “He’s going to be a true NFL guy, and he’s competitive as heck.”
Carr has 11,181 career passing yards and his favorite target, Davante Adams, tops the nation with 15 touchdown grabs and tops the nation with 10.1 receptions per game. He averages 107.4 yards receiving per game.
The Bulldogs obviously lean on Carr’s arm – and Adams’ grabs – but they have a pair of quality running backs in Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller, who both average 5.2 yards per carry and combine for 1,119 rushing yards. Quezada has gone over 100 yards rushing in the past two Fresno State games – and UNM might have four linebackers out with injuries.
“You can only talk so much about needing more strength, needing more experience, needing more oomph,” said Davie of his defense. “The bottom line is we have to be accountable for what just happened (on the field). There’s a lot of reasons for things, but you have to make sure those reasons don’t become excuses.”
If the Lobos ever wanted to fall back on excuses, this would be an acceptable time. A team short on depth going into the season is battered – and finish with No. 15 Fresno State and then at Boise State.
“If you’re ever going to go into the fetal position, now is the time,” Davie joked at his weekly press conference.
The Lobos won’t do that on Saturday. They have a plan – a plan that will be plugged with some different pieces on Saturday.
“We’ll go see what happens," said Davie.