Game Preview- Utah vs New Mexico

Can the Utes avoid the big upset in a hostile environment with a backup quarterback?

Facts and Figures

No. 14/14 Utah (2-0, 1-0 MWC) makes its first road trip of the season, playing at New Mexico (0-2, 0-0 MWC) in Albuquerque on Saturday, Sept. 18. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. MT in University Stadium. The game will be televised live on The Mtn. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com).

Utah jumped six spots to No. 14 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' polls. It is Utah's highest ranking since Nov. 8, 2009, when the Utes were No. 14 in the coaches' poll (No. 16 A.P.) prior to a loss to TCU. Utah finished last season ranked 18th in both polls.

Utah's Kyle Whittingham earned his 50th win as a head coach last week over UNLV. Whittingham's 50-17 overall record includes a win as the co-head coach of the Fiesta Bowl in January of 2005. (The NCAA recognizes that game as a win for both Whittingham and former Ute coach Urban Meyer).

Utah's starting quarterback against New Mexico is to be determined, dependent on the status of sophomore Jordan Wynn (thumb injury to his throwing hand). Wynn led Utah to an overtime win over Pitt in the first game, while senior Terrance Cain earned the victory against UNLV last week.

Last year's 45-14 win over New Mexico came on the first start of Wynn's career. In the best starting debut ever by a Ute true freshman quarterback, Wynn passed for 297 yards and two touchdowns.

Also in last year's win, Eddie Wide set the school record for consecutive 100-yard games. Wide's career-best 145-yard game against the Lobos was his sixth-consecutive triple-digit rushing game.

The Lobos rank among the bottom 10 Division I teams in 12 statistical categories. They are last in total defense (591 ypg) and scoring defense (62 ppg), next to last in net punting (20.69), 118th in turnover margin (minus 2.5) and pass defense (330.5 ypg), 117th in scoring defense (8.5 ppg), 116th in tackles for losses (2.0) and rushing offense (61.0 ypg), 115th in rushing defense (260.5 ypg), 114th in pass efficiency (93.15), 113th in total offense (270 ypg)

Utah leads the series 32-17-2 with UNM, but has only a 13-12-1 edge in Albuquerque. Utah has held the upper hand in the last three contests, including two of the last three in Albuquerque. Utah is 3-2 against New Mexico when the Utes are nationally ranked. A ranked Utah team lost to New Mexico in 1994 and 2003, but has avoided an upset the last three times (in 2004, 2008 and 2009).

When Utah has the ball

The New Mexico defense is awful and might be the worst in the country. Granted they have gone up against two powerhouses offenses the past two weeks in Oregon and Texas Tech but the numbers are beyond embarrassing. Dead last in the nation in total defense and scoring defense at an astounding 591 yards per game and 62 points per game respectively.

Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata should be able to break out and put up big numbers, including breaking off a few huge runs, even with starter center Zane Taylor sidelined. Linebacker was thought to be a strength for New Mexico coming into the season with Carmen Messina, the nations' leading tackler in 2009, coming back to anchor the group. A high ankle sprain to Messina has kept him limited so far this year and it is showing. The defense is giving up 260 yards a game on the ground, and that all starts with the defensive tackles and linebackers. There just isn't enough talent there, outside of Messina, to be any better than that. If the Utes don't run for over 200 yards, they should be embarrassed.

The defensive ends for New Mexico are pretty good in Johnathon Rainey and Jaymar Latchison and should be able to get a little bit of pressure on Cain, but don't be surprised if the Utes' offensive line throws another bagel on the stat sheet when it comes to giving up sacks. They're that good, even with Taylor out.

As bad as the run defense is, the pass defense is even worse, coming in at 117th in the country with 330 yards per game. Terrance Cain isn't he kind of quarterback that is generally going to put up that many yards through the air, but with great catch and run receivers in Jereme Brooks, DeVonte Christopher, and Shaky Smithson, they can turn 8 yard patterns into 80 yard touchdowns quickly.

The Lobos currently rank near the bottom in the nation in every major defensive statistical category and the Utes should only make that worse. This could be the Utes biggest offensive output of the year.
Advantage: Utah

When New Mexico has the ball

While the Lobos' offense isn't as bad as the defense, it's close. They're on putting up 270 yards a game, good for 113th in the nation. Quarterback J.R. Holbrook has been thrown into the fire as a sophomore and asked to do pretty much everything. He had a solid game against a Texas Tech team that doesn't play any defense, but was downright awful against Oregon. He's going to need to be brilliant for the Lobos to have a chance. The offensive line is mediocre at best with Byron Bell being the only guy that would have a shot to start at Utah.

The Utah defensive ends had a poor game against UNLV, as they were unable to get pressure on a dual-threat QB. Holbrook isn't going to beat anyone with his legs and should be a sitting duck for Junior Tui'one, Christian Cox, and Derrick Shelby to tee off on. It is imperative for Shelby to get a sack and build some confidence after his slow start to the season. The defensive tackles will also benefit from Holbrook staying the pocket and get more pressure than last week. They should be able to stop the run this week as well.

The running game for New Mexico is no-existent at this point averaging only 62 yards per game, good for 116th in the nation out of 120 teams. The leading rusher is wide receiver Chris Hernandez with 45 yards on 2 carries. Demond Dennis led the team in rushing in 2009 and is the team's starter, but has only 30 yards through 2 games and is averaging 2 yards per carry. The Utah defensive lineman and linebackers must be licking their chops knowing they'll be going against such a paltry rushing attack. Linebacker Chaz Walker is tied for the most tackles in the nation through 2 games with 27. Walker has been unbelievable in his first year as a starter and is putting together and all-conference season through 2 games. Next to Walker is the much improved Matt Martinez. Martinez isn't the most gifted linebacker, but showed dramatic improvement from week 1 to week 2 with a career high 12 tackles against UNLV.

New Mexico has a receiving corp that doesn't scare anyone. Ty Kirk is the leader through 2 games with 13 catches for 167 and will likely be matched up with Brand Burton throughout the day. Bryan Williams is second on the team with 9 catches. Receiving and passing numbers may be inflated due to the fact that New Mexico has played from behind in each of its two previous games and has been forced to pass more than it would have if the game was close. The Utes only have one interception on this season, but New Mexico has thrown four (to go along with four lost fumbles). One of the corners in either Burton or Chapman is going to pick on off this week and I could see a safety like Blechen make a pick as well.
Advantage: Utah

Intangibles

The game is in Albuquerque and no one likes to go to Albuquerque, not even the people that live there. It's one of the toughest places to play in the conference and the crowd can be hostile, though it's hard to get riled up when your team is so bad. The Utes are experienced, confident, skilled, and more well prepared by a much better coaching staff. While Kyle Whittingham is arguably one of the top ten coaches in the country, Mike Locksley could be the worst.
Advantage: Utah

Prediction

This one is over before it begins. Kyle Whittingham teams are too disciplined and too well prepared to overlook any team, especially in a conference game. Terrance Cain will manage the game and let the playmakers do what they do best…make plays as Eddie Wide, Jereme Brooks, and Matt Asiata all have big days. The starters will play into the third quarter, putting up over 500 yards of offense, with over 200 on the ground, before Utes empty the bench and we all get a chance to see some of the younger guys get some game action. We might even be treated to a Griff Robles sighting. No punts will be blocked this weekend.

Utah 52 New Mexico 10

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