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New Mexico Lobos Football – Branch Field -- University Stadium

Who/When: 6 p.m. (MT), Saturday – New Mexico Lobos vs. UTSA

On TV: My50-TV (Comcast 12, DirecTV and Dish 59)

On Radio: Lobo Radio Network -- KKOB-AM 770; ESPN Deportes, KRZY 1450-AM in Spanish

Game Promotions: Coach Bob Davie Bobble Heads (first 2,500 fans); YAFL Night (halftime); Postgame Fireworks Show

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The season starts with a different look because of so many different reasons.  The Lobos have added a few wrinkles.  Cool stuff. The Lobos have added a few new faces.  Young stuff.  

There is a huge state-of-the-art scoreboard on the North end of Branch Field that hopefully will flash different numbers frequently on the Lobos’ side and there is a good chance for that to happen because of UNM’s hard-to-stop running game.

“We will run the ball,” said Lobo Coach Bob Davie.  “We have added a few things, but that’s still what we do. I can’t wait to play a game and find out who we are.”

Said Lobo receiver/returner Chase Clayton:  “The first game is exciting, to see where everybody is at. Are you ready or not? Everything is legit, for real.  It’s time to play.”

Another difference in this game comes from the feel toward Davie’s Lobos as they square off against UTSA – the University of Texas at San Antonio.

A year ago the 2012 Lobos were a mystery surrounded by a few hundred questions.  “Last year I had no idea,” said Davie. Sure, the UNM staff had taken the right steps to change the culture and even the fundamental approach of a team that had won three games in the previous three seasons.

But was that enough to make a dysfunctional team competitive?

Yeah, it was.  The Lobos functioned at a high level and the belief created in 2012 carries into the first game of 2013.  "This year I know the culture is better,” said Davie. “We just have to go play with the light on.”

The lights come on (symbolically) at 6 p.m., and the lights go down after the game for a spectacular postgame fireworks show.  But the fireworks Lobo fans want to see will come from an offense tuned by a fearsome running game which is the staple of this team.

The key areas to hope for improvement will be in the passing game and on a defense that needs not to give up big plays, needs to come up with third-down stops – and needs to get off the field and let Cole Gautsche and company do their thing.

The Lobo youth thing also is a point of interest.  How will the Lobo pups play?

The Lobos are young and there are still some holes that Davie and his staff have to plug.  He returns three starters from a defense that wasn’t very good in 2012 and a lot of baby-faced Lobos are being called to guard duty.

But there is more talent and even more enthusiasm as the Lobos look at a 12-game schedule that includes a couple of bye weeks and they see opportunity dancing within their grasp. In 2012, maybe there were some winnable games in front of the Lobos.  In 2013, there definitely are some winnable games on the horizon.

UTSA is a winnable game.  It’s also a winnable game for the Roadrunners of SA – sometimes called San Antonio. Let’s see who makes the plays.

The Roadrunners are in their third year ever of football, but Larry Coker, a two-time National Coach of the Year, has put together a frosty group of Roadrunners, who won eight games in 2012 -- Year Two. 

OK, a soft schedule helped UTSA roll to some of those wins, but the Roadrunners come in confident and capable and with 20 returning starters.  Sure, Coker probably will recruit better talent to UTSA than he did when he was throwing out the line:  “Hey, we are starting a football program over here at UTSA. What position do you want to start at?”

Still, those first-year Roadrunners have grown and they obviously know how to win.  Their key player is senior quarterback Eric Sosa, who ran for 364 yards in 2012 and threw for 2,085 with 20 TDs and three interceptions. 

“I think that’s going to be the key,” said Davie of slowing down Sosa. “He’s an operator. He gets the ball out quickly and he can run well enough.  He’s a quick decision maker who never gets sacked (seven times in 2012) and hardly ever throws an interception.“

The Lobos have a good quarterback for sure in Gautsche, who has a firm grasp of UNM’s pistol offense, makes good reads on the option and has improved his passing.  The Lobos probably have a good one in Clayton Mitchem, too.

The quick-footed Mitchem needs improvement with the option read, but has a bullet of an arm. He can throw.  He is a dual threat. But this is his first taste of college football at the top level.

“Clay Mitchem will play,” said Davie.  “He is just too talented not to play.  But Cole doesn’t have to look over his shoulder.”

On paper, the team that opens its third season of football (UTSA) has a lot of similarities to the UNM team that opens its 115th season of football.

The Roadrunners believe they can move the ball and score points behind a balanced attack keyed by Sosa. Ditto for the Lobos behind their pistol attack triggered by Gautsche.

The Roadrunners need to show improvement on defense.  Ditto for the Lobos.

The special teams for both teams played solid in 2012 and those areas could be a factor if mistakes become a factor.

The winner here already is obvious: The Lobos fans that come to Branch Field on Saturday to enjoy a gorgeous New Mexico evening and welcome in the 2012 season.

Like UNM’s Chase Clayton put it: “It’s time to play.”

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 rstevens50@comcast.net.


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