Stevens: New Mexico Lobos Football 2012 Season Preview
Aug. 30, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Football - University Stadium - Branch Field
Who: Lobos vs. Southern University
NEW MEXICO LOBOS FOOTBALL 2012 SEASON PREVIEW
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If you had to symbolize the start of the Bob Davie era with a simple vision, you might picture Davie walking onto Branch Field with a handful of dirt or maybe a single brick, tossing it down onto the turf and saying, "Here. This is how we begin."
The Davie plan isn't really that simple. It's a blueprint, a schematic, a vision as complex as any design an architect might scratch out for city planners looking to build tall.
Davie plans to build tall, too. He also knows his depth-challenged and scholarship-challenged Lobos do not start on an even playing field. This isn't a quick touch up.
The 2012 New Mexico Lobos are in a bit of a hole - a "fragile" program, to use Davie's word, and there is a foundation to be set. Davie does not go into his first season as a Lobo talking about a bowl bid or about lighting up the scoreboard. He promises no W's, predicts no L's.
In Davie's blueprint, there are shiny things and fancy things, but first there is mortar and concrete that dig deep into the ground and into the fabric of a program.
He talks about fundamentals, execution, discipline, honest effort, blue-collar mentalities and improvements that come from applying those things to the basic elements of football. He talks about establishing a Lobo brand, and even though that brand includes winning, there are other things to do first. The basement comes before the penthouse.
In Ruidoso, on the final day of camp, Davie had his Lobos spread out and clean up the practice fields. If you are familiar with the discipline level that Davie inherited at UNM, this gesture was probably one of the more important things Davie did in Ruidoso.
The season of 2012 will not be an easy one for Davie's Lobos. They open against Southern University on Saturday, and that appears to be a winnable game. The Lobos next go to Austin to play the talented and proud Texas Longhorns on their ground. Then it's on to Lubbock and explosive Texas Tech and then Las Cruces and New Mexico State, which rides a three-game streak over UNM.
Boise State, a Top-25 team picked to win the Mountain West, comes to Albuquerque to start the 2012 MW wars. The Lobos host Texas State on Oct. 6 and then go to Hawaii and to Air Force. The dog days of the MW grind bring UNM games with Fresno State, UNLV, Wyoming, Nevada and Colorado State.
If you are counting, that's 13 games. If you apply dates to those 13 games, there is no rest - no bye week for a team that already fought through a rash of minor injuries in fall ball. This schedule is a mean, mother bear.
The challenge and the schedule are what they are. This is a New Mexico Lobos team trying to climb out of a hurtful 3-33 past and Davie knows the change in culture and the changes on the scoreboard will take time, patience, recruiting, community support.
He hopes and plans to put a Lobo team on the field that will not self-destruct or aid the enemy with mistakes, turnovers or penalties. He intends for his Lobos to execute, avoid penalties, take care of the ball and maintain field position with smart play and purposeful special teams.
The first-year Lobo coach also is hoping that the community of Lobos will support this team from Game One.
"There is something in this for everybody; for the whole community, for the state, for us," said Davie. "When you see how fans and communities rally around college football, you have a greater understanding of the total impact. It can be tremendous.
"This is New Mexico and New Mexico Football. Why wouldn't you come?"
The New Mexico Lobos' Offense:
The Lobos averaged 12.0 points on offense in 2011 and, for the second straight season, failed to produce a 100-yard rusher in a single game. Things need to change.
There are huge keys to changing things this season and the temporary loss of one key put a scare into Lobo fans when senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook went to the sidelines in fall camp with chest inflammation. Holbrook is being medicated and is expected to retake the field.
It's fair to say Holbrook (6-3, 196) is an important Lobo in 2012. He is the only Lobo QB returning from the 2011 season. He also is seasoned and savvy and talented enough to execute the things that Bob DeBesse, UNM's offensive coordinator, wants to implement on offense.
DeBesse comes to UNM from Sam Houston State with plans to "Pistol" whip UNM's opposition with a high-octane offense that can inflict damage both on the ground and through the air with a variety of looks.
DeBesse also might have to simplify that Pistol offense a bit in 2012 - well, depending on how things go.
Holbrook had to share the Lobo pocket in 2011 with Tarean Austin and Stump Godfrey, who are no longer with the program. Holbrook is the preferred pocket leader and he is backed by a whole lot of youth that would be best served by watching and learning from Holbrook.
The backup race is between true freshman Cole Gautsche (6-4, 227) and junior transfers Quinton McCown (6-4, 215). Each of these young Lobos has their pluses, but Holbrook is the package DeBesse wants on the field. Holbrook is the only Lobo with a D-I snap.
The senior targets on the edge are good ones: Lamaar Thomas (6-0, 180), Ty Kirk (6-2, 180), Quintell Solomon (6-3, 185) and tight end Lucas Reed (6-6, 250). Reed, Thomas and Kirk started UNM's opener in 2011 vs. Colorado State. This is not an inexperienced crew.
Thomas has healed from the broken foot that limited him to four games in 2011. The highly-regarded Ohio State transfer appears prime for a big senior year as does Kirk, who is No. 10 on UNM's career reception list (121).
Solomon had 18 catches for 184 yards last year. Reed had 55 catches over the past two seasons and, although his blocking has improved, he can still make that clutch catch in traffic. There are a handful of talented and quick younger Lobos waiting in the wings, who likely will see playing time in 2012.
So, can the Lobos run? Really, that depends so much on what happens in the trenches. We'll get to that.
UNM does have a host of promising backs, but those backs also have been nipped a bit by little injuries. Junior Kasey Carrier (5-9, 180) is back from a redshirt season and carries a respectable 642 career yards into his junior campaign. He is joined by junior Demarcus Rogers (5-11, 190), the only runner back from the 2011 season who played.
Up front, the Lobos do not have a lot of depth, but O-line coach Jason Lenzmeier has no problem keeping the same five linemen on the field - if they can hack it. Lenzmeier never missed a snap when he played as a Lobo from 2000-03.
The starting five might shift during the season, but Dillon Farrell (C, 6-5, 290), LaMar Bratton (G, 6-2, 282), Garrett Adcock (G, 6-2, 270), Darryl Johnson (T, 6-4, 305) and Korian Chambers (T, 6-6, 302) look pretty close to nailing down starting slots. The backup crew looks to be Dillon Romine (6-7, 275), Calvin McDowney (6-3, 350), Josh Baggett (6-4, 304), Jamal Price (6-6, 332) and Johnny Vizcaino (6-3, 290).
It's important that the Lobos in the trench stay healthy. It's also important that they improve on their line play from 2011. UNM averaged 113.2 yards on the ground and 296.2 on offense.
The New Mexico Lobos Defense:
The Lobos defense is changing again. It was a 4-2-5 in 2011. It was a 4-3 in 2010. This season the Lobos switch to a three-man front, but Lobo fans likely will see a lot of 3-4 and a lot of 4-3. It kind of depends on what the Lobos are looking at on the other side of the line.
The Lobos lost 15 players, who started in 2011, and return five Lobos, who started six or more games: Joseph Harris (12 starts), Reggie Ellis (10), Dallas Bollema (9), Dante Caro (7) and Destry Berry (8). UNM allowed 500 points in 2011 and set a school mark with only three interceptions. The Lobos gave up 492.1 yards per game.
Things need to change here, too.
In football, they say it all starts up front. A few Lobo lettermen to see time in the trenches on defense are: Reggie Ellis (6-2, 255), Jacori Greer (6-3, 255), Jake Carr (6-3, 235), Rod Davis (6-0, 305), Ugo Uzodinma (6-4, 275), and Fatu Ulale (6-2, 275). Ulale is a redshirt possibility.
A few freshmen linemen have been impressive in fall camp, including Payton Hightower (6-4, 260), Darian Allen (6-5, 260), Gerron Borne (6-2, 275), Andrew Aqua (6-3, 330) and Dominic Twitty (6-2, 270).
A 3-4 front requires those three down linemen to lock up things quickly in the trenches and it also requires an active linebacking crew to fill gaps and make quick tackles.
Senior linebacker Joe Harris (6-2, 230) has the strength and speed to be one of the top tacklers in the Mountain West. Harris also might see some three-point stance time since he has the strength to play down. The quarterbacks in the Mountain probably will be pointing out No. 44 to a few of their offensive linemen. Harris likes to make a run at quarterbacks.
You combine Harris with senior Joe Stoner (5-10, 240) and junior Dallas Bollema (6-2, 226) and that's a solid trio of linebackers. Harris has three letters, Stoner has three and Bollema has two. This group has experience and big-play potential. Rashad Rainey (6-2, 200) and Javarie Johnson (6-3, 240) also are battling for an outside spot and both of those Lobos are quick to the football.
The defensive backfield is a unit that needs to step up production in 2012. Senior DeShawn Mills (5-10, 174) could emerge as the leader of this group. He was a starter in 2010 and should be back on the front line. Mills has lettered three times, as has Freddy Young (6-1, 201).
Dante Caro (6-0, 185) has two letters and Jamal Merritt (6-0, 188), Brandon Branch (6-0, 185) each have one letter. There also is a lot of young talent - Tim Foley, Darien Brunson, Rashad Jackson, Verhad Jackson, Cranston Jones, Ryan Santos - that gives UNM some depth.
The New Mexico Lobos' Special Teams
The Lobos' special teams have been an emphasis in fall practice. This is not a unit that has shined over the past three seasons as a group. Junior Ben Skaer is a two-year starter and has a 40.1-yard average in 158 career punts. Junior Justus Adams is the kickoff man and also will get his shot at kicking field goals and extra points. Deep snapper Evan Jacobsen is considered one of the top snappers in college ball.