New Mexico Lobos Football --- at UTEP Miners
When/Where: 6 p.m., Saturday – Sun Bowl, El Paso
On The Air: Fox College Sports (TV); 770-AM KKOB / Lobo Radio Network
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Statistics
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
EL PASO -- The Sun Bowl of El Paso waits for Lobos like a rusty trap – an aging bite of concrete and steel celebrating its’ 50th birthday and planning to show it still has the spunk to help the UTEP Miners crush down on Lobos.
The plans in El Paso are not meant to be warm or welcoming to Bob Davie’s Lobos. This is not a polite curtsy leading up to a tea party or a milk-and-cookie brunch. The Miners plan to smash mouth the Lobos from the opening kick. They do not want to spoil the Sun Bowl’s birthday. They do not want to lose to Lobos.
The Miners are eager, excited, hungry to open the Sean Kugler era of Miner ball. The Lobos feel pretty much the same way trying to spit out the bad taste of their 21-13 opening loss on Branch Field to the Roadrunners of UTSA.
“There is genuine disappointment,” said Davie of the mood of his Lobos after the UTSA loss. “There are some things you come to expect and they didn’t happen. We have some things we have to solve. We have some things we have to tweak.”
The Lobos possess a hard drive to get redemption. The game with UTSA was one of those 50-50 games where one team was going to play better or get a few big breaks and leave a winner. The Roadrunners played better.
The Miners are favored to win. They are at home. The Lobos lost at home. “In some ways, we’re already backed into a corner,” said Davie, not sidestepping the possible impact of the loss to UTSA.
Saturday’s game likely will come down to execution, big plays, possibly turnovers. Really, it’s one of those 50-50 games. If the Lobos can run the ball and get poise, confidence and some passing yards out of first-time starter Clayton Mitchem, the Lobos have a good chance to win.
The Miners need to stop the UNM option, force some turnovers, frustrate or sack Mitchem, and throw out a balanced attack. They also need poise and production from their first-season quarterback, Jameill Showers, a transfer from Texas A&M.
What happens on the field will dictate the winner. But there are sidebars that make this game a must for football fans. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” said Davie.
The Miners are looking for an edge against a program they have played more than any other school except for New Mexico State. Nothing wrong with looking for an edge. The Miners have tossed the Lobos onto the East side of the Sun Bowl to face the glare of a Texas Sun as it fades to the West. They want to melt the Lobos the way Dorothy of Oz once melted a witch.
“It’s going to be a nice little away game, you could say,” said Lobo Dante Caro. “I think we’ll embrace it and even build off that energy. Coming from Cruces, I’m not really a fan of UTEP or the Miners.”
It will be a hot sideline for the Lobos, but it could be worse. The temperature at game time is projected to be in the low 80s. Not bad for El Paso in September.
The Miners also have pushed the Lobos in front of the UTEP student section, the UTEP band and the general-admission rowdies that can make the Sun Bowl a hostile and loud pit.
“We’ll try to quiet all that down over on that side,” said Mitchem.
Not to place too much pressure on Mitchem, but his play is pivotal to UNM’s success. That’s simply the way it is when you are a quarterback and maybe even more when you are a quarterback in a pistol offense that leans on the option and proper reads from your leader.
Mitchem has the skills to be successful. He has quick feet. He has a rocket arm. UNM has simplified the package from what the pistol might have brought to El Paso had Cole Gautsche been commanding the UNM huddle. But Mitchem still needs to make reads and execute.
The Lobos’ offensive line also is critical. The 193 yards produced against UTSA wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t up the standards of a UNM run game that was No. 5 in the nation a year ago with a 301-yard average.
“We didn’t quite get it done,” said UNM center Dillon Farrell.
Said O-lineman LaMar Bratton. “I know our run game is going to come. It’s going to be real nice when it pops out.”
The Lobos don’t exactly know what first-year UTEP coach Sean Kugler has planned on offense, but probably it will be a balanced attack behind the Miners leading rusher from 2012, Nathan Jeffery (897 yards) and Showers, who is supposed to be a playmaker. They Miners also have Jordan Leslie, who caught 51 passes in 2012.
“At the end of the day, there are only so many ways you can line up,” said Davie. “It’s about playing football.” Which means that 11 Miners will face 11 Lobos to see who executes and who makes plays.
On defense, the Miners have gone to a 4-2-5 look. UNM’s offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse has a long history playing with and against Miners’ first-year defensive coordinator Scott Stoker. DeBesse said he knows what to expect.
“No matter what their scheme is, they are going to play with unbelievable passion,” said DeBesse. “His scheme will be in-your-face pressure, man-to-man all over the field, a scheme that not everybody has the guys to play.
“They are going to play with unbelievable motor and tenacity.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.