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New Mexico Lobos (2-5, 0-3 MW) – Mountain West – at San Diego State (3-4, 2-1 MW)

When/Where: 6:08 p.m (MT), Saturday, Qualcomm Stadium

TV: ROOT Sports (Comcast 261, DirecTV 683, Dish 414); Mountain West Network

Radio: Lobo Radio Network (770-AM KKOB),  Game Story, Complete Statistics, Quotes, LoboTV 

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/

There are a few things about the San Diego State Aztecs that are not a mystery.

1. They are jacked up with top-level talent on both sides of the football.

2. They have had an up-and-down season featuring losses to a couple of teams they should have beaten, including Fresno State of the Top 20.

3. They are a Rocky Long-coached team and that means they come at opposing teams hard and fast, especially on defense.

4. They do not like to give up yardage on the ground.

“You know a Rocky Long team is going to play hard,” said Lobo senior linebacker Dallas Bollema, who was recruited to UNM by Long (then-UNM coach) as a high school junior but ended up coming to UNM to play for Mike Locksley.

The Aztecs have nice balance. They push out an average of 428.1 yards per game and 26.9 points. They mostly run out of a pro set with two backs and they will try to out-execute you rather than dazzle you.  This is more of a traditional attack and not one coming out of a spread.

They are a lot like the Lobos on offense.  The Aztecs say, “Here is what we do. Try and stop it.”  The Lobos have the same philosophy running the option out of their pistol.

The Lobos prefer the ground attack (322.3 yards a game) while the Aztecs look for balance averaging 158.7 rushing yards and 269.4 passing yard.  The Aztecs will mix it up. They have averaged 488 offensive yards over the past four games.

The Aztecs have an edge on defense. New Mexico Coach Bob Davie is still developing a defense and admits that unit is “struggling.”  Long’s defense is in its fifth season at SDSU and that unit returns nine starters.  

The Lobos bend at a rate of 480.7 yards per game – good for the 114th spot on the NCAA list of 123 teams (NMSU is 123). The Aztecs hold down the 76th spot, which is pretty good for a defense in the offense-crazy Mountain West.

The number that jumps out at you is the Aztecs’ 124.9 yards yielded per game via the rush.  That’s the best in the Mountain and good for the No. 21 spot nationally.

The Aztec defense is led by safety/rover Nat Berhe with 57 tackles.  SDSU linebackers Nick Tenhaeff and Josh Gavert and safety Eric Pinkins have combined for 17 tackles for a loss which indicates Long still likes the occasional blitz on passing situations.  Tenhaeff has 42 tackles on the year.

There is an interesting statistical matchup.  The Aztec strength on defense matches up against the Lobos’ strength on offense. The Lobos faced the Mountain’s No. 1 ranked rushing defense on Oct. 19 – then Utah State – and lost 45-10.  The Aztecs have allowed 2.54 yard per carry in their past five games and 3.5 on the season. SDSU held Oregon State to 10 rushing yards – and lost.

A big difference on Saturday will be the health of Lobo quarterback Cole Gautsche.  He is near 100 percent and will be available to trigger the UNM option. He had four carries vs. Utah State.

The Aztecs are coming off a heart-breaking 35-28 overtime loss to Fresno State which snapped the Aztecs’ three-game winning streak and dropped them to 3-4 on the year.  SDSU racked up 507 total yards to 341 for Fresno. The Aztecs held Fresno to 43 yards on the ground and won the time of possession battle 35:11 to 24:49.

And they lost.

The Aztecs have a bad taste to spit out and they have to be looking at New Mexico as an important hurdle to clear in order to become bowl eligible. SDSU is trying to overcome its 0-3 start (losses to Eastern Illinois, Ohio State, Oregon State) and advance to a bowl for the fourth consecutive season.

The balance on the SDSU attack will present a challenge to UNM’s young defense.  The Aztecs have rushed for 851 yards and 12 touchdowns in their past four games.  They rank No. 25 nationally over that span averaging 212.8 yards.

The Aztecs have produced a 100-yard rusher in each of those four games. Adam Muema has 481 yards and Donnel Pumphrey had 501.  Muema had 111 yards against Fresno State. Pumphrey had 167 vs. NMSU and is averaging 7.51 yards per carry in his past four games.

The Aztecs got 337 passing yards from 6-foot-4 walk-on quarterback Quinn Koehler vs. Fresno.  He went 21-of-39 in that game and is 119-of-192 on the season for a 62 percent rate.  He has 1,568 yards and nine touchdowns.  His favorite receivers are Ezell Ruffin (40-for-658 yards) and Colin Lockett (24-for-308).

The Lobos have two receivers with nine or more catches. The Aztecs have nine in that category.

The Aztecs preferred method of attack on Saturday in Qualcomm Stadium probably will start with the run.  Long likes to establish a running game to open up the air lanes. The Lobos have been vulnerable to the run and the Aztecs have run the ball well of late.  

The Aztecs return seven offensive starters.  Often, their offensive look will be two backs, a tight end and Ruffin and Lockett out wide. It’s usually Muema or Pumphrey in the tailback slot behind smash-mouth fullback Chad Young (5-10, 240 pounds) in the backfield.

 Again, it’s this is what we do; try and stop us – but we can pass!

Game Note:  SDSU Coach Rocky Long has been on the winning sideline in this series the last 11 times the two teams have played – eight as a Lobo and three as an Aztec.


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