New Mexico (2-4, 0-2} – Mountain West – vs. Utah State (3-4, 2-1)
When/Where: 7:08 p.m., Saturday – Branch Field – University Stadium
TV: ROOT Sports (Comcast 261, DirecTV 683, Dish 414); Mountain West Network (game online subject to blackout on systems carrying ROOT Sports)
Radio: Lobo Radio Network (770-AM KKOB), ESPN Deportes (1450 KRZY-AM, Jose' 105.9 FM)
Game Promotion: Lobos Love Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness.
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Complete Statistics, Quotes, LoboTV
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In the revolving door of quarterbacks that is swirling around the huddles of New Mexico Lobos and Utah State Aggies, maybe it doesn’t matter all that much which quarterback pops out of the merry-go-round and into the pocket.
If you are the Lobos, you are thankful that you don’t have to deal with Chuckie Keeton (knee injury), one of the best arms in the nation.
If you buy into the buzz from Utah State, it looks like freshman Darell Garretson will get the start. However, the Utah State offense probably won’t shift much whether it’s Garretson or Craig Harrison. They’ll run it a little. They’ll throw it a little. They’ll likely go with the QB who gets hot.
If you are the Aggies, you have to prepare for Cole Gautsche because UNM’s bread and butter attack is the option and Gautsche makes it purr better than any other Lobo.
If Gautsche doesn’t get the start, or doesn’t play much, the Aggies will get a break similar to UNM and Keeton. If Clayton Mitchem or David Vega play, UNM might lean more to a running back attack, but stopping UNM’s option is still the defensive thrust for the Aggies.
Really, the Lobos problem is on the other side of the ball. The best player on the Utah State team with Keeton gone probably is Jake Doughty.
“Their (middle) linebacker is one heck of a player; number 51,” said Jason Lenzmeier, UNM’s O-line coach.
Lobo fans might not always like what they see from Doughty, but he’s a fun player to watch. He’s active. He gets to the ball. He has 83 tackles on the year and had a career-high 19 vs. Boise State. He is No. 5 in the nation averaging 11.9 tackles per game.
The Aggies have several outstanding linebackers including Zach Vigil, who averages 9.7 per game. The strength at that position has helped Utah State’s 3-4 front become the top defense in the Mountain West.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Lobo Darryl Johnson, a 308-pound O-lineman. “They’ll play an odd front and it’s going to be a challenge.”
The Aggie’s defense is outstanding. They led the MW in scoring defense (21.4 points per game allowed), rushing defense (129.1 yards per game) and total defense (351.6 yards per game).
They have had a few challenges in their defensive backfield, but the Lobos beat teams on the ground. UNM is No. 2 in the nation in rushing with a 349.3 average per game. Kasey Carrier leads UNM and the Mountain with a 131.5-yard average per game. He has four 100-yard games so far in 2013. Gautsche is No. 3 in the MW and No. 21 on the national level with his 103.2-yard average.
That’s why you prepare for Gautsche. You can’t afford not to.
The game obviously is an important one for both teams. The Lobos have lost three of four and are looking for their second league win under Coach Bob Davie. The Aggies are 3-4 and hoping to rally down the stretch run and scratch their way into a bowl.
"That’s our objective this week: to win out," said receiver Travis Reynolds. "We’re going into this New Mexico game with high intensity, and we’re preparing to execute the right way."
Execution is key for the Aggies. Obviously, the Aggies run better with Keeton in the huddle.
Utah State averaged 40.4 points with Keeton and is averaging 18.5 points without him. The Aggies totaled 491.2 yards with Keeton and 372.5 without.
But it’s not just an offensive factor. Keeton kept the Aggie offense on the field and helped the Aggie defense with rest, field position and the edge that comes in knowing your offense is going to give you a lot of points.
The Aggie defense has not played as well without Keeton, but some of that is playing Brigham Young and Boise State. Utah State yielded 17 points with Keeton and 32.5 without. The Aggies were outscored 65-37 the past two weeks.
Garretson is projected to start vs. a UNM defense that is 122 in the nation in passing defense, 108th in scoring defense and 115 in total defense. Those numbers are the kind you want to see when you are throwing out a freshman. However, the UNM defense is improving and it is better than average in creating turnovers.
And the UNM defense probably doesn’t mean seeing a freshman in the Utah State huddle.
Garretson threw two quick interceptions vs. Boise State before engineering a 91-yard touchdown drive. He went 9-of-14 for 116 yards. He got starter reps in practice this past week and should be better prepared to lead the Aggie offense.
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.