New Mexico Preview

Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque is the site of Arizona State’s first road game of the 2014 season. The Lobos and their triple option offense will host a Sun Devil squad who showed well in their season opener, but are still seeking to improve as the break in several newcomers in their two-deep. Joe Healey looks at this match up and analyzes ASU’s next opponent.

New Mexico Offensive Personnel

The key storyline for New Mexico is the expected change at quarterback from week one as Cole Gautsche will be replaced in the starting lineup by Clayton Mitchem due to injury.

Gautsche posted a sensational effort in a losing cause against UTEP last week with 184 rushing yards and two touchdowns – a rushing yardage total that was the eighth-best mark in the FBS at the most among quarterbacks for week one.

After Gautsche went down roughly midway through the fourth quarter last week, Mitchem came in with the game tied but later threw a crucial interception caught at the UTEP 29-yard line with 1:31 left and the Lobos down a touchdown.

Mitchem is regarded as better passer than Gautsche, but doesn’t present nearly as much a running threat as the Lobos’ starter last week as Mitchem totaled only 133 net rushing yards on 64 carries last year. If you’re the Sun Devils, you gladly accept the flip-flop to have Mitchem in the lineup over Gautsche.

Last season, Mitchem was UNM’s leading passer – albeit with 661 yards – while completing 59.3 percent of his passes with one touchdown and one interception.

New Mexico will go three or four-deep at running back in its attack, with Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson leading the way week one with 84 and 71 yards respectively against UTEP. David Anaya added 20 yards and Crusoe Gongbay chipped in 12.

Among running backs, Gongbay is the team’s leading returner from 2013 with 592 yards last year with Pressley (273 yards), Gipsin (220) and Anaya (103) also contributing.

At receiver, Dameon Gamblin, Jeric Magnant and Carlos Wiggins figure to see the most time, though Wiggins – a special teams dynamo – is questionable.

Magnant had a team-best 294 receiving yards on 19 catches last year, while Wiggins hauled in 13 passes for 163 yards. Marquis Bundy also contributes in the pass game, having tied for the team-high of 19 catches with 261 yards in 2013.

Reece White and Chris Edling both see time at tight end but neither caught a pass last week.

From left-to-right, UNM’s offensive line features Reno Henderson at tackle and Eden Mahina at guard with Lamar Bratton at center. Guard Jamal Price and tackle Johnny Vizcaino occupy the right side.

Of the group, Bratton is the most heralded as he was listed as a Preseason First-Team All-Mountain West Conference selection with 36 starts entering 2014.

Price entered 2014 with 13 total starts, while Vizcaino started 10 of 12 games played in 2013. Henderson redshirted in 2013 after one season at the junior college level while Mahina joined the program this year from the JUCO ranks.

New Mexico Offensive Summary

UNM will run the ball – a lot. In 2013, the Lobos averaged over 50 carries per game and exceeded that total week one. The very definition of a one-sided offensive scheme, in total the Lobos rushed 52 times to nine passing attempts – in essence, making New Mexico the bizarro Washington State.

Though Mitchem is a more polished passer and not as qualified a rusher compared to Gautsche, it certainly can still be expected that New Mexico will pound the ground repeatedly in Albuquerque.

It is unlikely that New Mexico will want to put its offensive fate in the hands of Mitchem, so the running backs committee will undoubtedly will be worked mercilessly in attempts to challenge and wear down ASU’s young defense.

The absolute key for the Sun Devils is defensive discipline, as ASU must hone in on the Lobos’ triple option attack and not allow sloppy pursuit to clear open paths for New Mexico.

In this matchup, expect the likes of Salamo Fiso and D.J. Calhoun to build on their strong game one efforts and be seen in frequent head-on collisions with Lobo rushers.

New Mexico Defensive Personnel

Defensively, New Mexico starts up front with Brett Bowers and Paytron Hightower on the ends around nose tackle Cole Juarez.

In 2013, Bowers was UNM’s leader with 6.0 sacks but his name is absent from the UTEP box score despite starting the game. Juarez was credited with two tackles including one for loss, while Hightower batted down a pass against UTEP.

Juarez is in his first year at New Mexico after one season at the junior college level, while Hightower missed the majority of the 2013 season due to injury.

New Mexico employs a pass rusher in either Donnie White or Chandler native Richard Winston. Last week, White tallied three tackles while Winston posted two including 0.5 for loss. In 2013, White appeared in 10 games as a reserve with 16 tackles while Winston posted eight tackles in 11 games.

Juarez (6-1, 305) gives UNM Jaxon Hood type of size in the middle, with a solid Bowers (6-2, 280) and a much slighter Hightower (6-3, 245) on the edges.

At linebacker, leading tackler Dakota Cox starts in the middle with Kimmie Carson or Ryan Langford on the weak side and Tevin Newman on the strong side.

Cox, who recorded a team-best 99 tackles as a true freshman in 2013, had a monster game with 17 stops against UTEP, while Carson, a redshirt freshman, tied for third last week with seven tackles. Langford chipped in five tackles last week and Newman posted two stops. Langford is in his first year at UNM after transferring from the JUCO level, while Newman is one of the defense’s most veteran players with 33 career appearances entering 2014.

In the secondary, Isaiah Brown and Jadon Boatright are listed as the starting cornerbacks with David Guthrie at strong safety and Brandon Branch at free safety.

Boatright totaled six tackles and Brown two last week, while Guthrie was second on the squad with nine stops and Branch added four.

Guthrie entered 2014 as the team’s second leading returning tackler from last year with 65 in 2013, while Branch totaled 26 a year ago. Boatright contributed eight tackles and Brown added seven last season.

If either Brown (5-11, 180) or Boatright (5-10, 172) is consistently matched up against Jalen Strong, one would have to believe the physical edge would prove highly advantageous for ASU.

Saqwan Edwards is one of the team’s most active defenders in the secondary, having totaled 45 tackles including 2.0 sacks with three fumble recoveries and one interception in 2013. In all, Edwards was responsible for four of the 10 forced turnovers by UNM last season and is a playmaker to keep an eye on Saturday.

New Mexico Defensive Summary

The clash of ASU’s offense versus the New Mexico defense is one that heavily favors the Sun Devils, as in 2013 the Lobos allowed 516.6 yards per game of total offense and 42.8 points per game.

Other than defensive end Brett Bowers, no Lobo recorded more than 2.0 sacks in 2013 and last week New Mexico failed to record a sack on UTEP’s 22 pass attempts.

The offensive attack ASU brings to Albuquerque is a potential recipe for disaster as it concerns the Lobos as the Devils’ seasoned quarterback, nationally acclaimed running back and receiver combination, a strong offensive line and compelling young skill position players give Todd Graham and Mike Norvell numerous possibilities Saturday.

Bottom line, ASU should be able to assert its will against New Mexico and quickly dictate the pace of the game. Last season, Taylor Kelly proved his ability to win on the road in all ways – domination at Washington State, survival mode at UCLA and also by captaining a comeback at Utah.

New Mexico Special Teams Summary

New Mexico boasts one of the most dynamic kick returners in college football in Carlos Wiggins, the national leader in kick return yardage in 2013. The availability of Wiggins, however, is questionable, which is a potentially significant factor as the Sun Devils have had noted difficulties in kick coverage.

In the kicking game for the Lobos, junior Zack Rogers connected on his only attempt last week against UTEP, while he also manned the punting duties and did very well in his two opportunities as his punts boomed 66 and 50 yards.

Dameon Gamblin is listed as the team’s top punt returner but totaled just two yards on two returns last week.

Final Analysis

New Mexico’s triple option attack truly will be an intriguing opponent for a young Sun Devil defense and has the ability to absorb chunks of time off the game clock of the Lobos can create sustainable drives.

The substitution of Mitchem for Gautsche is one that removes a dashing playmaking threat from the Lobo offense – of course an advantage to the Sun Devils.

In all, the most decisive advantage in the game appears to be the options ASU should have on offense, even if just limiting to heavy reliance on stars D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong. After what was shown last week, it stands to reason that New Mexico’s defense should have little chance of resisting the prowess of Foster and Strong, and from there other Devils such as Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage at running back and Gary Chambers, Ellis Jefferson and Cameron Smith at wide receiver should have opportunities to thrive.

ASU should certainly top at least 40 points and if the Sun Devils can buckle down defensively and remain disciplined, the outcome could prove to be a sizable win margin.

Familiar Faces

• New Mexico Offensive Graduate Assistant Clay Davie was on the Sun Devil football roster from 2007-09 and later served as a graduate intern under Dennis Erickson.

• New Mexico Football Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Ben Hilgart was ASU’s Head Sports Performance Coach from 2008-11.

• ASU DL/LB Edmond Boateng attended New Mexico Military Institute, as did New Mexico DL Taylor Timmons and OL Reno Henderson.

• New Mexico LB Michael Arredondo is an Arizona native and attended Phoenix Desert Vista High School, as did ASU LB Marcus Washington.

• New Mexico WR Marquis Bundy is an Arizona native and attended Anthem’s Boulder Creek High School.

• New Mexico RB Wendell Carter is an Arizona native and attended Winslow High School • New Mexico DB Juwan Jones and LB Richard Winston are Arizona natives and attended Chandler High School.

• New Mexico WR Chris Davis attended Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian High School, as did ASU LB Carlos Mendoza.

• New Mexico WR Tyler Duncan attended Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High School, as did ASU LB Salamo Fiso.

• New Mexico DB Cranston Jones attended West Mesquite (Texas) HS, as did ASU CB William Earley.

• New Mexico OL Eden Mahina attended Upland (Calif.) High School, as did ASU S James Johnson.

• New Mexico DL William Udeh attended Coppell (Texas) High School, as did ASU WR Cameron Smith.

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