The Lobos’ impressive 56-38 win over Air Force feels like ages ago. New Mexico is on a nasty three-game losing skid, suffering a 38-0 shutout in Fresno, a heartbreaker against Colorado State and a 42-3 turnover frenzy at Wyoming. The recent cold streak effectively dropped UNM to the Mountain division’s cellar, currently just 1-4 in conference play.
At 2-3, the Aggies haven’t fared much better in their Mountain West matchups. Utah State knows a thing or two about frustrating losses to conference foes Wyoming and CSU, and last weekend’s home loss to Boise State only added pressure to this Saturday’s showdown. With a win, USU keeps bowl hopes alive with a game at home against Hawaii and a road tilt at Air Force still to play.
Utah State’s major focus will be stopping the Lobos’ option-heavy ground game. For all of New Mexico’s glaring flaws, the team still sports the No. 4 rushing offense in the Mountain West, averaging 234 yards per game. Lobo running back duo Tyrone Owens and Richard McQuarley typically split carries, with Owens acting as the shifty speed back and 220-lb McQuarely owning his role as the team’s best battering ram, tallying six touchdowns this year. Both ball-carriers average 5.5 yards per carry.
Though the Aggies limited Boise State to 163 yards on the ground last week, USU head coach Matt Wells expects better from a defense that failed to contain Boise QB Brett Rypien.
“Just because you played well against the run doesn’t mean you played well as a defense,” Wells said. “Certainly, we played better against the run, but that’s half the defense. It’s not the whole defense. We gave up way too many explosives, we didn’t take one ball away and we played poor red zone defense. Does the run defense overshadow that? Not in my mind.”
Takeaways have proved something of a specialty for the Aggies this season, as their 20 forced turnovers are currently ranked No. 4 in the nation. Through eight games, New Mexico has turned the ball over 21 times — including five interceptions thrown against Wyoming just last week. Averaging 2.64 turnovers per game makes UNM’s defense difficult to gauge, as the Lobos boast a sneakily good rush defense.
New Mexico runs the option almost exclusively, but rank next-to-last in the conference in team scoring, notching just over 22 points per game. Tomorrow’s clash features a pair squads with well-established weaknesses coming off of painful losses, but undeniable talent on both sides of the ball. While much of this game’s outcome rides on the continued emergence of freshman QB Jordan Love and the defense’s ability to force turnovers against a turnover-prone Lobo squad, the game’s major key belongs to Utah State’s front seven playing disciplined defense.
“This is a unique week in terms of scheming and playing, when you play the option and you play a defense that pressures as much as they do,” Wells said. “We have to find a way to win this and get us back to even, three wins in the league and another step closer to bowl eligibility. It’s a brand new day and a brand new week.”