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
Does the buzz, the energy, the feel and smell of football ever radiate at a higher level than it does for a season opener?
Is there really electricity in the air mingling with the sounds and smells of tailgating?
It seems that way. College football is here and there are few sporting moments more vibrant and intoxicating than what is taking place at college stadiums across the country.
The Lobos’ University Stadium is providing such an opportunity. It should be a good one. The long wait for Lobo coaches, players and Lobo fans is over as the revenge-minded UTEP Miners step onto Branch Field Saturday looking for some sweet payback for what Lobos did to Miners a year ago in El Paso.
It is an intriguing matchup between two teams that played to a deadlock in four quarters of football a year ago in El Paso. The outcome was decided by an inch in UNM’s 42-35 overtime win.
“They are a lot like us,” said Lobo Coach Bob Davie. “It’s a big game. I’m not going to minimize it.”
They say you only have one chance to make a good first impression and Lobos and Miners will be out to do that using the scoreboard at University Stadium as the final judge. A lot of unknowns will be wiped away for two programs looking to take another step forward in the rebuilding process.
“We can’t wait to hit somebody else,” said Lobo linebacker Dakota Cox.
Yes, there will be hitting, running, passing, mistakes, penalties and big plays. There will be unknowns and question marks about each team that will be influenced by game-day data.
In a nutshell, the Lobos are looking to see if their running game will be as powerful in 2014 as it was in 2013. They also are hoping to see efficient and opportunistic passing – and a whole lot more defense.
The Miners pretty much have similar questions and a key area of concern for both teams will be what happens in the trenches. The Lobos have added new faces on both sides of the line and so have the Miners. UNM needs to run the ball in 2014 and probably needs to run the ball against the Miners. Ditto for UTEP.
“They’re going to line up and run the ball right at us,” said Davie
Said UTEP coach Sean Kugler: “Defensively, the key to this game is going to be eliminating the big runs. We know they are going to be able to run the ball.”
And interesting sidebar to UTEP’s need to stop the Lobos’ Pistol offense is how much the Miners have prepared for the option chamber of that Pistol. A year ago the Miners went from a three-man front in spring ball and into a four-man front for fall ball. It’s tough to put in a new defense in the fall and open with UNM’s option.
"They run a lot of formations, you have to have your eyes right," said UTEP safety Wesley Miller.
Kugler also said he made a mistake in not preparing more for UNM’s option in 2013. He said his Miner defense has taken an addition week of snaps in fall ball looking at an option attack. “It's an offense that you need preparation time for, because it's very different from anything else that we will face this year,” he said.
Of course, the Miners’ simulated option did not include UNM’s Cole Gautsche, who is one of the best in the nation in orchestrating that attack. “He’s hard to bring down,” said Kugler. “They can run the ball as good as anybody in the country. They have a lot of talent on offense.”
It’s probably a safe bet to assume that both teams will move the football. The Miners return their top two running backs and senior quarterback Jameill Showers. “(He) is an NFL-type quarterback, who can throw it,” said Charles McMillian, UNM’s defensive secondary coach.
Said Kugler of Showers: “He'll have some run-pass options where he'll have to make a decision at the line of scrimmage. He's very smart. He understands these situations well.”
This will put pressure on a young Lobo secondary to make its reads well – and quickly.
The key to victory for Lobos and Miners on Saturday could come down to special teams, big plays, mistakes – and defense. UTEP’s defense last season gave up 39.3 points and 468.3 yards per game. UNM’s defenders allowed 42.8 points and 516.6 yards.
Both teams emphasized defensive improvement in the off season and both Davie and Kugler believe that improvement is there.
“Now, we need to see it with the lights on,” said Davie. Kugler says the Miner improvement is “night and day.”
Said Lobo D-coordinator Kevin Cosgrove: “It’s see what they (defenders) can do in a game.”
Of course, all that Lobo improvement and Miner improvement was based on performance in fall camp. It gets real on Saturday. The lights eventually will be on and Lobo unknowns will be clashing with Miner unknowns.
Ready or not, the season unfolds. Come feel the electricity.