New Mexico Lobos Football – vs. UTEP Miners
When/Where: 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30 – Branch Field/University Stadium
On The Air: 770-AM-KKOB/Lobo Radio; Mountain West Network
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
You ask some football coaches about the importance of the season opener and you think maybe they are auditioning for a spot on the TV show “Dancing with the Stars".
You get some polished tap dancing with a few side-stepping moves thrown in for good measure. Sometimes it resembles a game of dodge ball. The media throws out a few pointed questions. The targeted coach ducks and weaves like Muhammad Ali doing his rope-a-dope thing.
Not sp with Lobo Coach Bob Davie.
The straight-shooting New Mexico Lobos’ third-year coach knows the first game doesn’t spoil a season, but he also knows that a good start helps a young program trying to establish an identity, confidence and momentum. There’s nothing wrong with a good start.
That’s what the Lobos want Saturday when the UTEP Miners step onto Branch Field. The Miners are looking for the same feel-good ending to join them on the bus ride back to El Paso.
“It’s a big game. I’m not going to minimize it,” Davie told the media Tuesday during his weekly meet with the local press. “That first game is really important. It’s important for them. It’s important for us. Certainly the mood of your fans is impacted by (first-game results), particularly when you are in a program that’s building.
It’s also important for two teams that – if things go well – could scratch their way into a bowl game in 2014. Both teams need to place Saturday’s game on the positive side of their win-loss ledger. There are tougher foes on the horizon for both Lobos and Miners.
It’s also a bit of a mystery game for both teams. Both Davie and UTEP coach Sean Kugler have made a few adjustments from 2013 and both programs have added more talent and some depth. There are things the Lobos don’t know about the Miners and vice versa.
There are some things both coaches want to find out about their own teams.
“Nobody knows. The reality is nobody knows,” said Davie of evaluating how much improvement any team makes from one season to the next until an enemy has been faced. “That’s why we play the games.
“We are markedly improved. But I can only judge it so far in what I’ve seen against ourselves. But we have come a long way.
“People should come out and watch this game because there are two really evenly matched teams.”
The Lobos played in El Paso’s Sun Bowl a year ago and escaped with a dramatic 42-35 overtime win. Both teams moved the ball well on offense and both teams gave up too many yards on defense.
The Miners expect to field a balanced offense behind a senior quarterback and proven runners. The Lobos have the same expectations behind Cole Gautsche and Clayton Mitchem and a crew of talented running backs.
There will be postgame fireworks, but there should be lots of fireworks on the field, too.
“They are a talented, big, offensive football team,” said Davie. “On defense, they are a lot like us.”
TO PASS OR NOT TO PASS? OK, there will be passing. But a key for both teams in going aerial is how well they can establish the run.
Last year in El Paso the Lobos really didn’t need to pass.
The Lobos pounded out 395 yards on the ground. The Miners probably are looking for more of a run-pass balance behind senior quarterback Jameill Showers, who is in his second year at UTEP after transferring from Texas A&M. Showers threw 20 times vs. UNM a year ago while the Lobos only put the ball in the air seven times.
If the UNM option churns through the UTEP defense like it did last year, the Lobos obviously will back off their passing game – a bit. “We had a hard time stopping them. They had a hard time stopping us,” said Davie.
Still, it’s still kind of a catch-22 situation for UNM. The Lobos want their Pistol offense to be multiple and there will be games – and times – when the passing game is needed. But if the option is rocking, it might not be prudent to throw the ball into the sky.
“It doesn’t really matter to me how many times we throw it,” said Davie. “It doesn’t matter particularly to me how much our yardage is per game.”
What Davie wants to see is a passing game that is capable of taking advantage of passing situations. He wants to see an opportunistic and efficient Lobo passing game. He wants to see some big plays. He sees enough improvement in UNM’s passing game to hope those things will happen in 2014, but he also expects to see improvement throughout the season.
“It’s still a little inconsistent,” Davie said of UNM’s aerial attack. “It’s not like every day we come out here and it’s efficient and clean and we say, ‘Boy, I’m confident we can go out and do it.’
“There are still some ups and downs with it, but we’re encouraged by it.”