New Mexico Lobos Football – Homecoming -- vs. UNLV Rebels
When/Where: 6 p.m., (MT) – Branch Field – University Stadium
On TV: Comcast Standard – 261 (276 Santa Fe). Comcast Hi-Def: 814 in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Silver City, Los Alamos (893 in Farmington). DirecTV on 684. Dish on 448.
On Radio: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network, ESPN Deportes (1450-AM)
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Complete Statistics, LoboTV
Promotions: UNM Homecoming -- Court announced during a 25-minute halftime; 1985 Lobo baseball team recognized; T. Michael Williams, the first ASUNM African-American president, recognized; Postgame Balloon Glow, courtesy Rainbow Ryders, Hot Air Balloon Ride Company.
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
To expect a football game to be a smash-mouth affair isn’t exactly breaking news. That’s the nature of the beast. Often, the team that is the most physical wins the battle of the trenches and greatly influences the scoreboard.
However, the New Mexico Lobos figure they owe the UNLV Rebels some smash-mouth that the Rebels did not see a year ago in Las Vegas. Well, at least not at the level at which the Lobos prefer to hit.
“We didn’t play like we normally play,” said senior tight end, Andrew Aho looking back at that 35-7 defeat. “That made a difference in the game.”
OK, that’s part of the Lobos plan. Hit hard, hit first, hit more often.
It’s likely the UNLV Rebels have the same plan for the Mountain West opener for both teams to be slugged out Saturday at 6 p.m., on Branch Field at University Stadium.
The UNLV crew has an edge on the Lobos in experience and size, but the Bob Davie Lobos do so many things well that they have a way of hanging with teams that have other advantages.
UNM sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche and the UNM option ran for 307 yards vs. UNLV in 2012.
The Rebels probably will step onto the Branch Field turf with a little swagger. They come to Albuquerque riding a two-game win streak and have played solid football for the past six quarters behind a red-hot quarterback, Caleb Herring. UNLV has outscored its enemy 69-7 over the past six sections of football.
The Rebels likely remember that 35-7 count, too.
“I’m sure they will come in here with confidence,” said Aho. “If we feel they out-hit us, I’m sure they feel the same way so they probably have it in their minds that they can come in a do it again, beat us to the punch.
For sure, the Lobos are excited about this game. They are coming off a loss at Pittsburgh followed by a bye week. It’s time to hit somebody. It’s also Homecoming week.
“We take pride in playing the game in front of our students and for everyone coming back,” said Aho.
The game also is league. The Lobos are in the Mountain Division along with Wyoming, Utah State, Boise State, Colorado State and Air Force. The Falcons are 0-3 in the MW, but this is still a loaded division.
The Rebels are in the West Division trying to outrace Fresno State, Nevada, San Jose State, San Diego State and Hawaii.
The Rebels posted back-to-back wins for the first time in the Coach Bobby Hauck (6-23) era and got those wins riding the hot arm of Herring followed by a balanced attack that rolled Western Michigan 38-7. Herring has completed 42-of-54 passes for a 77.8 percentage rate. He has tossed four scores and has not given up an interception.
“They’ve been on fire ever since (Herring went in),” said Davie. “He brought a spark.”
Herring’s passing prowess had been aided by a solid UNLV running game that averages 189 yards behind Tim Cornett (79.8 yards per game) and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence (66.2 yards/12 yards per carry). This is obviously a challenge for the young UNM defense. The Rebels can run. The Rebels can throw.
“They’ve really moved the ball every week,” said Davie.
The Lobos counter with an option attack that can roll off yardage while it rolls time off the clock. The Lobo depth chart lists its starting quarterback as either Cole Gautsche or Clayton Mitchem. Gautsche is ahead of Mitchem in reading and running the option. Mitchem looks to have the better arm.
“We’re kind of a two-headed deal again,” said Davie. “It’s good to have both of them.”
It’s possible that both quarterbacks will see a lot of time, but if the option is working, the Lobos don’t always need to pass the ball.
It will be interesting to see UNLV’s strategy up front. There are teams that try to take away the dive and force option teams to beat them on the edge. You can also try to concentrate on the quarterback keep or the pitch. It’s difficult to do all three at once because an option team tries to create an edge in numbers (blockers).
The Lobos have a multitude of running backs with Kasey Carrier averaging 122.3 yards per game. Gautsche is No. 2 out of the backfield with 176 yards averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Crusoe Gongbay averages 8.9 yards per carry.
The UNLV call to duty on defense is obvious enough: stop the option. That’s easier to do when an option has a long way to drive, so field position, special teams and turnovers could be critical to the outcome.
The Rebels defense is ranked No. 10 nationally against the pass allowing 146.5 yards per game, but some of that success in pass prevention has come from teams running the ball well up front. UNLV has given up an average of 232 yards rushing per game.
The Lobos didn’t beat UNLV a year ago, but Gautsche led a ground attack that controlled the clock for more than 41 minutes and ran up 307 yards on the ground.
The Rebels probably remember that, too.
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.