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First Look: New Mexico

Published: July 2, 2010, 6:39 pm, by admin

This is Part 11 of my “First Look” series, in which I take a quick peek at each of the Air Force football team’s 2010 opponents. We move this week to the Falcons’ Week 11 opponent – New Mexico.

Here are links to the First Looks at the Falcons’ first 10 opponents: Northwestern State, BYU, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Navy, Colorado State, San Diego State, TCU, Utah and Army.

Coach: Mike Locksley
2009 Record: 1-11 (1-7, 8th place in the Mountain West Conference)
2009 vs. AF: Air Force 37, New Mexico 13
2009 in a Sentence: A disaster on and off the field for first-year coach Locksley (who was suspended for an altercation with an assistant and accused of sexual harassment, age discrimination and retaliation after firing an administrative assistant) and the Lobos, who edged Colorado State to avoid a winless season.
Off/Def Starters Back: 6/6
Roster Report: With the graduation of Donovan Porterie, New Mexico is one of only three MWC teams that won’t have a returning starting quarterback.

According to The Albuquerque Journal, sophomore B.R. Holbrook emerged during spring practice from a group that also included junior Brad Gruner and senior Tate Smith to become “the clear No. 1 candidate” to replace Porterie.

But a pair of incoming freshmen, Tarean Austin and Stump Godfrey, should push for playing time. Godfrey was the Texas 3A Offensive Player of the Year last season after throwing for 3,581 yards with 42 touchdowns and six interceptions and rushing for 848 yards and another 22 scores. Austin threw for 2,132 yards with 20 touchdowns and six picks.

New Mexico has a pair of backs who started games last year in sophomore Demond Dennis and junior James Wright. The explosive Dennis gained a team-high 427 rushing yards and 659 all-purpose yards in 2009. Wright, who is a more powerful runner but still has swiftness, should be familiar to Air Force fans – he had 126 yards and two scores on just five carries in last season’s game against the Falcons.

New Mexico lost two of its top three receivers but returns sophomore Ty Kirk, who led all MWC freshmen with 427 receiving yards last season. Also back is sophomore tight end Lucas Reed, who caught 17 passes for 212 yards and earned freshman All-American honors.

There are question marks up front, where the Lobos lost three starters, including Erik Cook, a first-team All-MWC selection last season. Junior Byron Bell, who started every game at left tackle in 2009 and was a freshman All-American in 2010, leads the returners.

New Mexico should be strong up front on the defensive side of the ball. The Lobos return both starting defensive ends (Jaymar Latchison and Johnathan Rainey, a second-team All-MWC selection in 2009), who combined for 14 sacks last season, and one starting defensive tackle (Peter Gardner). And one of their incoming freshmen, 6-foot-3, 265-pound Calvin Smith, could make an immediate impact.

Also back is linebacker Carmen Messina, who led the nation in tackles in 2009 with 13.5 per game, and corners Nathan Enriquez and Anthony Hooks.

Fast Fact: I’ll turn this over to my man Greg Archuleta of The Albuquerque Journal. Here’s a portion of a piece he wrote back in January:

Locksley points to the team’s improvement over its last five games of the season.

“We improved in almost every statistical category,” he says.

The Lobos averaged 14.9 points per game through the first seven weeks, 18.4 in the last five. They averaged 295 yards on offense before, 343.8 after. Defensively they gave up an average of 429.3 yards in games 1-7 and 393 in the final five. Their third-down conversion percentage on offense was just more than 24 in the seven games and 36.8 in the final five.

Bear in mind, also, that UNM played three ranked teams in the final five weeks and none in the first seven.

So, yes, that is progress.

What Caught My Eye: According to the Lobos’ spring practice guide, Locksley “identified several key aspects of Lobo football that he expects to see developed” during the spring. They included the rushing offense and defense, the turnover battle and third-down conversions.

New Mexico was dreadful in those categories in 2009. And they really are important categories. Below are the Lobos’ stats (and overall ranking among 120 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision squads) in those categories, juxtaposed with Air Force’s.

Category                    New Mexico                         Air Force
Rushing offense       100.3 yds/game (110th)       283.5 yds/game (3rd)
Rushing defense      165.0 yds/game (83rd)         134.0 yds/game (47th)
Turnover margin      Minus-0.5/game (T-97th)    Plus-1.69/game (1st)
3rd-down convers    30.1 percent (117th)             44.3 percent (24th)

Jake’s Way Too Early Line vs. Air Force: Air Force, minus-14.5. New Mexico improved in the final few games of last season and posted its lone victory (29-27 over Colorado State) in its penultimate game. Air Force gets the Lobos late (in the Falcons’ second-to-last regular season game), but even if New Mexico continues to improve, the Falcons should be clear favorites.

Final Thought: New Mexico couldn’t run the ball or stop the run in 2009. If it can’t do either in 2010, it’ll be another long season. Locksley promises a “more physical” team up front. We’ll see.