MWC Conference Preview: Week 6

Things are starting to take shape in the Mountain West with the big game this weekend coming with San Diego State's trip to Provo to take on BYU...

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SAN DIEGO STATE

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INSIDE SLANT

Coach-speak maintains that bye weeks come at the perfect time, no matter when they're scheduled. San Diego State will be hard-pressed to argue that point.

The Aztecs' 3-1 record matches their best start in 29 years. After suffering a last-minute loss at Missouri two weeks ago, they came back and routed Utah State in a statement game.

No longer are these the weak-minded Aztecs. The team is taking on the personality of its no-nonsense coaching staff.

"It gets back to believing in who we are," San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said. "Believing in being a team and playing together. We're taking small steps in how we move forward and treat each other, how we respect each other and how we play the game."

SDSU opened up the playbook against the Aggies after using the first three games to unveil a new, dynamic running game behind freshman Ronnie Hillman with a big assist from new fullback Brandon Sullivan.

Hillman is sixth in the nation in rushing at 133.0 yards per game, and the Aztecs are 25th in the country at 213.5 yards per game. They turned to fake field goals, gadget plays and maintaining aggressive play-calling throughout.

The Aztecs rank No. 7 in the nation in total offense at 509.5 yards per game. And their defense has been no disappointment, either. SDSU checks in with the 27th best defense among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and is giving up just 99.2 rushing yards per game.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Brady Hoke calls FB Brandon Sullivan the unsung hero of the team. Sullivan was the team's starting tailback last season but moved over to give SDSU's younger players a chance to kick-start the running attack. His leadership and blocking ability have been a big reason for the Aztecs' rekindled running game.

--SDSU's kicking game probably is another aspect of the overall team improvement that has gone unnoticed. K Abel Perez has a Mountain West Conference-leading 11 touchbacks on 30 kickoffs, and the Aztecs are tied with Utah for No. 2 in the conference with a 47.4 net average per kickoff.

--The Aztecs also lead the conference and rank 15th nationally in net punting. SDSU is averaging 40.8 net yards per punt. Brian Stahovich is sixth in the nation with an average of 47.4 yards per attempt. That has allowed the defense to stay aggressive with more favorable field position.

SEASON SUMMARY: The Aztecs are a 68-yard pass play -- and a missed penalty call -- away from starting the season 4-0. The loss to Missouri showed that SDSU still must learn how to win close games, but the blowout victory over Utah State showed a team in a transformation from a program once labeled "soft" to one on the rise. San Diego State is halfway to bowl-eligibility, and no one in the program appears satisfied. That is a promising combination.

LOOKING AHEAD: Talk about a measuring-stick. After its bye week, SDSU travels to Provo, Utah, to take on a struggling Brigham Young team that faces Utah State this week. The Aggies could give both teams an indication of what to expect in the Oct. 9 game. SDSU hasn't won at BYU since 2000. If the Aztecs win that game, it moves into Air Force territory at a notch below the league's top two teams -- TCU and Utah. When is the last time SDSU has been relevant in the Mountain West Conference? 2010 could be the first.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think that's a weekly thing, to be honest with you. As we go through the season, how we approach each week and how we approach each day from a preparation and a practice standpoint, that's a big part of it. I think our guys have done a good job of coming to work every day and being focused on what the task at hand is. They carry themselves a little differently." -- San Diego coach Brady Hoke, when asked whether he's seen a change in attitude or confidence in his team because of its fast start.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: SDSU has run the football 145 times, compared to 138 pass attempts. When Brady Hoke hired offensive coordinator Al Borges, the intent was to establish a rushing attack that had long been absent from the program. After four games, the Aztecs are just 86 yards shy of their total of 940 in all of 2009. Freshman RB Ronnie Hillman is a weapon opponents must devise a game plan to combat. That leaves WRs Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson with better matchups downfield.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Aztecs' 99.2 rushing yards allowed signifies the change in the physical nature of the defense. The 3-3-5 is starting to make some headway in applying pressure. SDSU has nine sacks on the season. It still has not forced nearly the number of turnovers as a gambling defense that the coaching staff wants. Aztec back Andrew Preston has been key in helping the run defense because it basically gets another LB on the field. He also has helped the secondary with his cover skills. DE Jerome Long has been the team's best defender through the first four games. He's second in the league with 5.5 tackles for loss.

ROSTER REPORT:

--TE Alston Umuolo is out for the year with a lingering hip injury. Coach Brady Hoke says SDSU will apply for a medical redshirt on his behalf, and it should come through because he has not used his redshirt year.

--The Aztecs are expecting return specialist Larry Parker (ankle), warrior back Dey Juan Hemmings (ankle) and LB Rob Andrews (neck stinger) to be ready for SDSU's next game against Brigham Young.

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UTAH

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INSIDE SLANT

The Utes (4-0, 2-0 Mountain West Conference) still are somewhat of an enigma entering their bye week. They started strong with an overtime win against a nationally ranked Pittsburgh team that looked like a statement game, then followed up with wins over three cupcake opponents in UNLV, New Mexico and San Jose State.

Meanwhile, Miami dominated Pitt last week, knocking some of the shine of the Utah victory.

Coach Kyle Whittingham said his defense isn't creating enough turnovers this season, and the offense isn't starting fast enough for his liking. The Utes are outscoring opponents 17-6 in the first quarter.

Special teams have been a weak spot; punter Sean Sellwood had two attempts blocked in the first two games, and the Utes allowed a 71-yard kickoff return to the Spartans. Still, Utah is unbeaten and now has a chance to evaluate its team before heading out on the road at Iowa State next week. The Cyclone should give the Utes a good indication of what they must shore up before a challenging five-game schedule to end the season. The only team on that list with a losing record is Notre Dame, which welcomes Utah on Nov. 13.

"During an off week," Whittingham sad, "you want to strike a balance between maintaining your edge and giving the players a chance to get some recovery time in preparation for the remaining eight weeks of the season."

Whittingham no doubt will find deficiencies with his team this week, but the question remains whether the Utes found out enough in their first four games to fix all the things they'll encounter the rest of the way.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Return specialist Shaky Smithson leads the Mountain West Conference and ranks sixth in the nation in punt-return average at 21.4 yards per attempt. He has the second most punt return yards in the nation with 299, on a nation-leading 14 returns. Smithson has had two of the top four single-game totals for return yardage this season. His 140 yards against New Mexico ranks second, and his 128 yards against UNLV ranks fourth best in the country.

--The Utes are 5-0 after bye weeks under sixth-year coach Kyle Whittingham. They are 15-2 in games with extra preparation time under Whittingham -- including season-openers and bowl games. The two losses came in season-openers.

--With its impending move to the Pac-10 next season, Utah's 2011 home game against Iowa State has been canceled. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah instead will play Montana State to go along with games at Boise State and Pittsburgh.

SEASON SUMMARY: The Utes have proven themselves to be one of the elite teams in the nation. They played a subpar game against Pittsburgh but still came away with an overtime win. Backup QB Terrance Cain filled for starter Jordan Wynn for two weeks, and the offense didn't miss a beat. When Wynn returned, he had tremendous success in a 56-3 Utah win over San Jose State last weekend. When one player is hurt or not playing well, the Utes have enough of a bench to insert the backup and not miss a beat.

LOOKING AHEAD: New Mexico and UNLV had limited success in the passing game when each team was able to protect its quarterback. Pittsburgh also was able to rally from an 11-point, fourth quarter deficit because of its ability to take advantage of the matchups in the Utah secondary. The Utes must get a better pass rush or play better in the secondary to contend with the teams on the remainder of their schedule. Offensively, their 272 rushing yards against San Jose State raised their average to a respectable 176.2 on the ground, but they have to run the ball more consistently to help keep their passing game so efficient. Utah ranks No. 7 in passing efficiency.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Ultimately, your success lies with what your players' capabilities and talents are. They've worked hard and done a nice job. If you've recruited the right way and have good guys coming up your system and ready to step in and replace those departing seniors, that's really what it boils down to." -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, on the defense's success this season despite losing seven starters to graduation in 2009.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Utes have suffered injuries at QB and on the OL but still are churning out close to 400 yards per game. They haven't required much the last three weeks to take out foes. RBs Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata have been steady but not spectacular. Terrance Cain has been a more-than-capable replacement at QB while Jordan Wynn nursed a sprained thumb; the backup actually leads the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 192.4. Wynn still gives the team a better chance to win every week. The pre-bye most valuable player has been wide receiver Jereme Brooks, who has 20 receptions for 307 yards and four TDs.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Utes were hit hard by graduation, lost their projected middle linebacker (Nai Fotu) in the spring with a torn ACL and have not had the services of LB J.J. Williams. Yet, its linebacker play has been stellar behind Chaz Walker, Matt Martinez and Chad Manis. The defensive line's depth has worn down the lesser opponents. CB Lamar Chapman leads the league in sacks, but the secondary still enters the bye week as the biggest question mark.

ROSTER REPORT:

--TE Brad Clifford, who missed the San Jose State game with a shoulder injury, should return after the bye.

--LB J.J. Williams, the team's best at his position in the offseason, could return after the bye week from a foot injury that has forced him to miss all four Utah games.

--Backup RB Sausan Shakerin (concussion) and DE Trevor Reilly (possible concussion), are questionable entering the week. The coaching staff wants to see how they perform this week before making an evaluation.

--Backup RG Walter Watts is expected to return after missing the San Jose State game with a knee injury.

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AIR FORCE

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INSIDE SLANT

Air Force pointed to a four-game stretch that would determine the path of its season.

The Falcons faced four bowl teams after starting with a game against FCS opponent Northwestern State. Included in those four games were matchups against BYU and Navy, teams Air Force hadn't beaten since 2002.

After those four games, Air Force is looking pretty good.

The Falcons beat BYU, came close to upsetting Oklahoma, came back to beat Wyoming and then delivered a win that Air Force fans have been clamoring for -- a 14-6 victory against Navy, which had defeated Air Force seven times in a row.

"Everyone comes up to us, 'Are you going to beat Navy this year?'" senior fullback Jared Tew said. "There's a lot riding on this game and it means a lot to the team, and especially (the seniors) going out winning for the first time, its huge. Were all excited."

Air Force put a lot of energy into that stretch, so the worry is a letdown against Colorado State this week. The Falcons are unlikely to stumble, considering they already dealt a bit with a trap game at Wyoming ... and they still came out with a win.

The Falcons also seem determined not to let what they've done in the first five weeks of the season go to waste. For instance, even though Air Force can win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy with a win against Army -- a supposed lesser foe than the Navy team the Falcons just knocked off -- this experienced team isn't taking anything for granted.

"They're a great team too, and it would be a shame to put all this work into this game and then look past Army and give the Commander-In-Chief's right back to Navy," senior receiver Kyle Halderman said.

Also, the Falcons know they have positioned themselves to be a contender in the Mountain West. It will be a tough task to knock off TCU -- the game is in Texas this season -- but Air Force has high expectations after its 4-1 start.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Falcons didn't stretch the field well against Navy, and part of that is the loss of receiver Kevin Fogler, who is out for a few weeks with a knee injury. Fogler is the team's top deep threat. "It's a real big loss for us," receiver Jonathan Warzeka said. Collectively, more than one person is going to have to step up to replace Fogler.

--Air Force was proud of the way it defended the option against Navy, holding QB Ricky Dobbs out of the end zone. Dobbs had scored a touchdown in every one of his first 16 career starts. "Just playing assignment football and everybody doing their jobs," defensive end Rick Ricketts said.

GAME BALL GOES TO: LB Jordan Waiwaiole -- Waiwaiole, a first-year starter, was all over the field against Navy. He had 15 tackles, a sack, and his interception with 25 seconds left deep in Air Force territory sealed the victory. He and fellow inside linebacker Brady Amack have each played well, turning a position that was a question mark before the season into a strength.

KEEP AN EYE ON: TE Chaz Demerath -- Demerath hasn't been a big part of the Falcons' offensive plans during his career, but he came up with some huge plays against Navy. His three catches for 56 yards all went for first downs, and they came on a pair of third downs and a second-and-long. "(Quarterback Tim Jefferson) saw the safeties were playing so deep, and just me wide open," Demerath said. "He did a good job finding me."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We were determined, but you know what? They were, too. It was evident that both squads were driven, were focused. A credit to all the coaches involved, just to have our guys prepared, as it was quite obvious that (Navy was) extraordinarily well-prepared, too." -- Falcons coach Troy Calhoun, after a 14-6 win over Navy.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Air Force's defense gets better as the game goes on. It has not allowed a point in the fourth quarter of its first five games, and overall has played very well. The Falcons were particularly good against Navy in the red zone, holding the Midshipmen to three field-goal attempts inside the 20-yard line. One of them was partially blocked by linebacker Jamil Cooks, which was a huge momentum shift early in the game.

STILL NEEDS WORK: There's little doubt that the Falcons are clicking right now. They played a very good game against Navy. If there was one issue it was a pair of lost fumbles, one by FB Jared Tew and another on an ill-advised option pitch from QB Tim Jefferson. For a team that prides itself on winning the turnover battle, there will be a lot of focus on ball security in practice this week.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Backup LB Jamil Cooks has impressed the coaching staff, and he was given a big role on special teams against Navy. After he blocked a punt and a field goal, perhaps the Falcons will look to use his athleticism on defense more.

--Starting FB Jared Tew continues to be the focal point of the offense. He is a tough inside runner who once again cracked 100 yards, with 111 on 17 carries against Navy.

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BYU



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INSIDE SLANT

BYU wallowed like it was 1973. That's the last time the Cougars started 1-4, which is where Bronco Mendenhall's proud program finds itself after a 31-16 loss at Utah State.

It was 20 years after that, 1993, that USU last defeated its quasi-rival from 120 miles south. It wasn't since that defeat that BYU had last lost four consecutive games. The moons aligned again, though BYU helped fate as much as anything with a miserable effort in which it trailed 31-3 early in the second half.

"It was just execution, in multiple situations over and over and over again," Mendenhall said. "We need to play more cleanly and more precisely to move the football and make the critical stops we need to."

Can the Cougars go up from here?

They face up-and-coming San Diego State in Provo on Oct. 9. Remember, it was SDSU that defeated Utah State, 41-7, just a week ago.

The Aztecs bring in a substantial passing attack, and the Cougars find themselves down a pair of starting safeties (along with a linebacker and defensive lineman) because of injury. SDSU also has a tricky, unusual 3-3-5 defensive scheme that figures to throw smoke-and-mirrors fits at BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps.

The newbie is still learning, but he's hardly alone in his struggles. Which is why the Cougars find themselves re-enacting a season of 37 years ago.

NOTES, QUOTES

--If BYU wants to find leadership from the defense, it might have to look in the training room. Senior safety Andrew Rich (shoulder contusion, stinger) left the Utah State game in the third quarter. Junior linebacker Jordan Pendleton (leg) was out in the final period.

Rich was ranked second in the nation with an average of 7.5 solo tackles per game entering the Utah State contest, but he was limited to just one solo tackle and five assists before leaving the game in the third quarter.

Pendleton occupied second place on the tackles list for BYU -- 15 unassisted tackles and 31 total in the first four games of the season. He was credited with two solo tackles and five assists against the Aggies.

Those guys join a pair of starters -- nose tackle Romney Fuga (torn ACL) and linebacker Jameson Frazier (broken thumb) -- on the disabled list. Also, the Cougars were again without safety Steven Thomas (concussion).

"It's sad to see players go down," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "With these players who have been playing so long and you have a relationship with, it's even more difficult."

With Friday's injuries, the Cougars only have four seniors and six juniors on the two-deep depth chart on defense.

--BYU had some success, after trailing 31-3, including a final-minute touchdown that came on a 66-yard drive over eight plays. Not exactly the big moments the team is used to, but Mendenhall hopes it inspires greater effort, concentration and confidence in upcoming weeks. BYU failed to convert in a similar situation a week prior in a home loss to Nevada.

--Friday's game marked the first time Utah State was able to hold BYU to less than 30 points since 1982. BYU had averaged 40.5 points against USU over the 28 years (21 games) since the Cougars were defeated 20-17 in Steve Young's first year at quarterback.

GAME BALL GOES TO: Kick returner JD Falslev -- A former walk-on, Falslev hails from the Logan, the home of Utah State. His team had an awful night in Logan, but in his homecoming he at least returned the first kickoff of his career 34 yards, ending it by jumping forward to initiate contact with a tackler. If only BYU had more verve like that.

KEEP AN EYE ON: It seems unlikely right now, with four losses, that BYU would have a chance at going to the postseason. Two more defeats seem assured -- at nationally ranked conference rivals TCU and Utah -- and there are no "certain" wins with the way this team is playing. Now, the bigger question is effort on and off the field as the season appears to be getting away from the Cougars.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a nice win for their program and fans." -- BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, after losing his first game in five tries against Utah State. Overall, the Cougars had won the past 10 meetings before losing 31-16 on Friday.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Well, Bronco Mendenhall curiously hyped up the potential of the scout team early last week. Now, it makes more sense. The season of 2011, with football independence and a clean slate, can't get to Provo, Utah, fast enough.

STILL NEEDS WORK: It's a long list. BYU's issues reach all the way to the level of a prominent player going to the wrong end of the field in preparing for a play after a TV timeout. Focus is not high right now.

ROSTER REPORT:

--S Andrew Rich (shoulder) and LB Jordan Pendleton (leg) are two of the few experienced BYU defensive players, and they could be gone for a while. Both left the Utah State game in the second half. That makes five starters down.

"We've got to go out there and play as hard as we can play," DE Vic So'oto said. "It's the nature of the beast to have guys go down with freak injuries. We have to bounce back. I know those guys are going to be in the film room, helping the younger guys get ready to play the (San Diego State) Aztecs."

--QB Jake Heaps, in his second start, completed 27 of 54 passes for 271 yards. He had some wonderfully thrown balls dropped and also had a couple of mistakes go without Utah State taking advantage. He is learning, but not at the pace that the Cougars need him to at this juncture.

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COLORADO STATE

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INSIDE SLANT

The steps of progress will be small for Colorado State, at least for a while. The Rams can't yet hope to knock off the No. 5 team in the nation, but hanging tough for the first half is not the worst sign for a young team.

Colorado State trailed just 6-0 against fifth-ranked TCU, before the Horned Frogs pulled away for a 27-0 win. The Rams go to Colorado Springs to play Air Force this week, with a lot of things to work on but they are more confident they can stay with a good team.

"I thought our football team stood in there and played well in the first half, particularly keeping them out of the end zone, but we were just inept offensively with three-and-outs," Rams coach Steve Fairchild said.

The biggest positive in Saturday's loss was the play of the defense. TCU has explosive players at just about every position, but the Rams did a decent job containing them. TCU quarterback Andy Dalton threw for just 109 yards.

"We played defense well," Fairchild said. "I thought we contained them for the most part until we kind of just broke down in the second half. I thought we did some nice things defensively."

The effort wasn't perfect, especially when TCU got its running game going in the second half.

"We can build off of it because the defense played a good game the first half," cornerback Shaq Bell said. "In order for us to start winning, we have to play good the whole game."

The offense is still coming along, and won't be helped by missing running back Raymond Carter with a knee injury for a few weeks. The Rams were shut out, but now know where they stand after facing the elite team in the Mountain West.

"I feel like we needed that going into conference," receiver Lou Greenwood. "Now, we have faced the best. That was a pretty good test for us."

NOTES, QUOTES

--TCU ran some option plays and had success against Colorado State. That can't be a good sign going into this week's game against Air Force, which runs the triple option at a very high level. "They had a couple option plays, and most of their operation on third down involved some of that stuff," Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild said.

--Colorado State wanted to stretch the field against TCU but didn't hit many big plays. But the Rams feel they are on the same page and getting close to making that a big part of their offense. "We are going to keep working and I feel like it's not going to be long before we get one," receiver Lou Greenwood said. "Maybe next week, maybe the week after but we are going to get it when it counts."

--The Colorado State fans showed their appreciation for the Rams' first-half effort against TCU, and the players noticed. "That was a moment of excitement," linebacker Ricky Brewer said. "Running off that field, Hughes Stadium was loud and pumping, and a big contributor that first half was that we had the student section behind us and that all comes with making plays."

GAME BALL GOES TO: S Ezra Thompson -- Someone off the defense had to get the game ball, and Thompson did a good job against TCUs attack. Thompson had eight tackles in all, including a team-best five solo stops. Thompson is a freshman and should be a player to watch as the young Rams continue to grow.

KEEP AN EYE ON: RB John Mosure -- With Raymond Carter likely out for a few weeks with a knee injury, someone has to carry the ball. Mosure started eight games last year, and took most of the carries after Carter left the game against TCU. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry last year and had seven rushing touchdowns, so the Rams can feel good about giving him the ball.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I told (TCU coach) Gary (Patterson) after the game that we could have played until midnight and we wouldn't have scored." -- CSU coach Steve Fairchild.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Colorado State's secondary seems to be improving, even with cornerback Momo Thomas done for the year. TCU had trouble completing passes against the Rams -- although strong winds might have played a factor. The Rams didn't look good in the secondary while giving up big plays to some of their opponents in September, so holding a talented TCU team to less than 200 passing yards is a positive development.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The offense still looks disjointed. The coaches weren't happy with the communication -- from failing to get the right players on the field in different packages to errors on deep passes that led to passes going to nobody. The offense is still young, and even though QB Pete Thomas has played well, he is still a freshman. There will be games in which it doesn't run smoothly.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Starting RB Raymond Carter suffered a knee injury against TCU. Coach Steve Fairchild doesn't think he is done for the season, but he should miss some games.

--Long-snapper Scott Albritton suffered a knee injury. Coach Steve Fairchild didn't speculate on the severity of the injury but said doctors will continue to do tests.

--Starting CB Momo Thomas is finished for the season because of a shoulder injury.

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NEW MEXICO

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INSIDE SLANT

Better special teams play Saturday was at least a small bright spot in a miserable season for New Mexico.

The Lobos scored two special teams touchdowns in their homecoming game against UTEP (4-1), but that just provided UNM (0-5) with its smallest margin of defeat, 38-20 at University Stadium.

Peter Gardner blocked a 52-yard field-goal attempt by the Miners' Dakota Warren, and Anthony Hooks scooped up the loose ball and ran it back 45 yards for a touchdown. That helped the Lobos tie the game at 14 late in the first quarter.

Myles Daughtry's 100-yard kickoff return with 3:24 left in the game ended a 24-0 UTEP run and helped UNM escape without the emotional scars of another beating.

"Today was everything that you would expect in a rivalry game," coach Mike Locksley said.

"It was physical and emotional. I thought our guys, as always, played with effort from beginning to end. Right now, we're just not a very good football team, and as I've said every time I've been up here, it starts with me. As the head coach, I have to find a way to get the team to play better."

Injuries at quarterback are plaguing the offense. True freshman Tarean Austin twisted his ankle at the end of the third quarter and left the game. Junior Brad Gruner, who missed last week's game with a back injury, was forced into the game with limited practice during the week and had to throw 17 passes in the fourth quarter.

Both have been pressed into service because of a knee injury to starting sophomore B.R. Holbrook that has sidelined him the past two weeks. Austin struggled before he exited, and Gruner is not a consistent enough passer to be a long-term solution for Locksley's spread offense.

Quarterback struggles have kept UNM from getting its running game untracked. That has pushed the offense into several three-and-out situations, forcing the defense back out on the field.

The Miners had 435 yards of total offense -- marking the fifth straight game that the Lobos have given up more than 400 yards.

UNM gave up touchdown passes of 48 and 49 yards and has not been able to apply enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to protect a weak secondary.

NOTES, QUOTES

--WR Myles Daughtry returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against UTEP. It's the team's first kickoff return for a touchdown since 1998. The redshirt freshman ranks 37th nationally in kickoff returns with an average of 26.6 yards per attempt.

--Despite scoring two touchdowns on special teams, the Lobos still are far from a finished product in that area. UTEP averaged 37.5 yards on its two kickoff returns and 22.5 yards on its two punt returns. And PR Ty Kirk fielded two punts inside the UNM 10. He bobbled one at the 5 and had to fall on it at the 6. The next time, he lined up at the UNM 10 for a punt and inexplicably ran back and caught a punt at the 1, returning it to the 9.

--The Lobos are giving up 233.4 more yards than they are gaining through five games. Their 492 yards allowed per game ranks 116th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. UNM's 259.6 yards per game on offense ranks 118th nationally.

GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Kasey Carrier -- A disciplinary measure against Demond Dennis allowed Carrier to have his best game of the season. Carrier, who suffered a high ankle sprain during fall camp and was slow to recover, had a team-leading 58 rushing yards (on 12 carries) and 36 receiving yards (on five catches). Carrier showed he has recovered from the ankle injury, and his production gives the Lobos a promising 1-2 punch in the running game with Dennis, who was limited to one carry on Saturday. Both are starting to find running lanes and making the ground attack a little more effective.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Not to add any fire to the hot seat under coach Mike Locksley, but UNM now faces in-state rival New Mexico State in a matchup of two of the worst programs in college football. The Lobos then have a bye week before returning home to face San Diego State and former UNM head coach Rocky Long, who is the Aztecs' defensive coordinator. The prevailing thought around Albuquerque is that the UNM administration ran Long out of town to hire a coach with a potent offense. Since Long left, the Lobos have won one of 16 games under Locksley. The school could be facing a public-relations nightmare if it enters that SDSU game with an 0-6 record.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It doesn't matter how difficult it is; right now, it is what it is. We're going to play with who we have, and we're going to get him ready for the game. ... Unfortunately, we have no control over injuries, we have no control over depth and we have no control over youth. We have to get the guys that are going to play ready to play, and I have to continue as a coach to get them ready." -- Coach Mike Locksley, on the Lobos' injury situation at quarterback and its effect on the offense.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Though the special teams coverage units still are in disarray, UNM is starting to look better on its other teams. Peter Gardner penetrated the UTEP line to block a 52-yard field goal attempt that Anthony Hooks returned for a TD. And Myles Daughtry's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was the program's first kickoff return for a score in 12 years. If the Lobos can continue to improve on special teams, they may stay competitive in games down the road.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Coach Mike Locksley has said he likes to be aggressive, but he played conservatively against UTEP. UNM's struggling offense moved the ball into Miners' territory on four occasions and punted each time. The first time, UNM tried to draw UTEP off-sides and then took a delay-of-game penalty back to the Lobo 47. Ben Skaer's punt reached the 11, allowing UTEP's Travaun Nixon to return the ball 46 yards against UNM's porous special teams coverage. On two other times when the Lobos tried to pin the Miners, the visitors responded with touchdown drives of 96 and 80 yards.

Locksley has to roll the dice and see if his offense can create some momentum because it's been obvious this season that UNM's defense and special teams can't keep the opposition pinned.

ROSTER REPORT:

--True freshman QB Tarean Austin sprained his ankle at the end of the third quarter against UTEP and did not return. Junior Brad Gruner played the fourth quarter in his place.

--Starting QB B.R. Holbrook missed his third straight game with a knee injury. He had exploratory surgery before the UNLV game.

--RB Demond Dennis was limited to one carry for 3 yards against UTEP. When asked why Dennis did not play more, coach Mike Locksley said, "It's called being a student-athlete. We have other things that we require our players to do and if they don't take care of it, the one thing we can hold over their head is playing time. If it hurts the team, then it hurts the team. Hopefully, he understands that."

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UNLV

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INSIDE SLANT

You might say first-year UNLV coach Bobby Hauck is a bottom-line kind of guy.

His rebuilding team, which has 20 freshmen playing this season, including 13 true freshmen, appears to have closed the gap with veteran in-state rival Nevada despite losing 44-26.

UNLV (1-4) gave up 257 yards fewer yards -- including 173 fewer rushing yards -- than a year earlier in a 63-28 loss in Reno when some observers felt Mike Sanford's squad simply packed it in.

Hauck's squad fought and scratched until the end, even outscoring the 25th-ranked Wolf Pack 9-6 in the fourth quarter.

But asked if he was pleased with his team's effort, Hauck issued a quick and terse reply.

"No," Hauck said. "We lost to our rival. Not pleased at all."

Nevada (5-0) won the Battle for the Fremont Cannon for a record sixth straight year, meaning college football's most expensive trophy will remain painted Wolf Pack blue for another year.

It doesn't get any easier for UNLV. The Rebels must regroup and travel across the country to face Big East Conference heavyweight West Virginia (3-1) in Morgantown.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Rebels lost against a ranked team at home for the 14th consecutive time. Their lone win over a ranked opponent came in 1984 against Cal State Fullerton.

--Senior QB Omar Clayton, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 214 yards, moved past Sam King into third place on the school's career passing yardage list. Clayton, who began his career as a fifth-string walk-on, has thrown for 5,490 yards in his career.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Phillip Payne -- The preseason first-team All-Mountain West Conference pick had his first 100-yard receiving game of the season and fourth of his career. He finished with eight catches for a career-high 170 yards, including a career-best 65-yard reception from quarterback Omar Clayton.

KEEP AN EYE ON: CB Will Chandler -- Entered the Nevada game tied for the national lead in takeaways with five. He got No. 6 with his fourth interception of the season when he picked off a Colin Kaepernick pass.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "What progress? We lost. Ever since I've been here we've lost the (Fremont Cannon) game. There isn't any progress because we lost the game." -- UNLV QB Omar Clayton on whether he thinks the Rebels have closed the gap with in-state rival Nevada.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: The special teams played a big role in keeping the Rebels in the game, averaging 38.0 yards on six kickoff returns. Freshman Marcus Sullivan had a 68-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, the team's longest return since a 94-yard return from Deante' Purvis against BYU on Oct. 10, 2009. Freshman Tim Cornett added a 58-yard return. The Rebels forced three turnovers and are now plus-four in that category this season.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The running game on both sides of the ball continues to struggle. Nevada rolled up 374 yards rushing and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, UNLV finished with just 80 yards rushing and averaged 2.4 yards per rush. Nevada finished with a 21-4 edge in rushing first downs. The Rebels, who came into the game averaging just 44.3 yards in penalties per game, where flagged for a season-high 10 penalties for 132 yards by the WAC crew.

ROSTER REPORT:

--OLB Starr Fuimaono, who came into the game tied for the team lead in tackles (26), left the game in the first half with a ankle injury and did not return.

--Redshirt freshman Brandon Babineaux made his UNLV debut on the kickoff return team. That raised the number of freshman to see action for the Rebels this season to 20 (13 true and seven redshirts).

--Co-starting RB C.J. Cox sat out his third straight game with a shoulder injury.

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WYOMING

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INSIDE SLANT

Wyoming was tricky again Saturday -- although the Cowboys still have some work to do before they can be considered "Run MWC."

The Cowboys used gadget plays to race out to a 20-0 lead at Toledo on Saturday, then held off a rally in a 20-15 victory. With the victory, Wyoming (2-3) ended a three-game losing streak as it enters Mountain West Conference play in a brutal way with games against TCU, Utah and Brigham Young.

Wyoming scrapped its spread offense in favor or a run-based Wing-T offense and nearly pulled off an upset of Air Force last week. The Cowboys went back to the spread against Toledo (3-2) and went back to their struggles on the ground.

But the Cowboys were innovative, using a wide receiver reverse pass, a fake field goal and a fake punt to score 13 of their 20 points on the Rockets.

"We had a few tricks up our sleeve," coach Dave Christensen told the Casper Star-Tribune. "We're a football team that's looking for ways to make things happen and where we're at now. We've got to be creative."

After rushing for a season-high 174 yards last week against the Falcons, Wyoming ran for just 93 against Toledo, and more than half of those -- 48 -- came in the first quarter.

Alvester Alexander opened the scoring with a 13-yard touchdown run after Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin fumbled on his team's first possession to give Wyoming the ball at the Rockets 24.

After that, Wyoming had to get creative. It took a 14-0 second-quarter lead when wide receiver David Leonard got the ball on a reverse, pulled up and fired the ball downfield to a wide-open Chris McNeill for a 37-yard touchdown pass.

The Cowboys got a first down off a fake field goal that allowed them to run out the clock at the end of the first half with a closer-in field goal. In the third quarter, punter Austin McCoy faked and passed to cornerback Marcell Gipson for a 34-yard gain, leading to another Ian Watts field goal.

Toledo seized momentum when it stuffed Alexander for a 1-yard loss and a safety at the end of the third quarter. It scored a pair a touchdowns to cut the gap to 20-15 and got into Wyoming territory after intercepting a pass from Austyn Carta-Samuels. The Cowboys defense held and preserved the victory.

NOTES, QUOTES

--A week after he rushed 22 times for 123 yards against Air Force, Wyoming RB Alvester Alexander had 21 carries for a measly 35 yards against Toledo. Wyoming went away from the two extra blockers it used in the running game against the Falcons, and Alexander suffered. He had 35 rushing yards by the end of the first quarter, zero yards the rest of the game.

--Coach Dave Christensen coached at Toledo from 1992-2000. He served as offensive line coach from 1992-96 and added the title of offensive coordinator in 1997. The Rockets compiled a 68-32 record with Christensen as an assistant.

--Rain and cold conditions affected punter Austin McCoy. McCoy, who was averaging 47.5 yards per attempt and had nine punts of 50 yards or more coming into Saturday's game, had eight punts against Toledo for an average of 37.4 yards. He was unable to get any punt past 50 yards, although he did land two inside the Toledo 20.

GAME BALL GOES TO: S Chris Prosinski -- He had seven tackles, moving him into eighth place on Wyoming's career tackles list. He also made the key play on defense that helped the Cowboys win the game. Wyoming's 20-0 lead had been cut to 20-15, and Toledo intercepted QB Austyn Carta-Samuels to get the ball back. The Rockets marched to the Wyoming 33 but faced a fourth-and-8. QB Terrance Owens completed a pass to Eric Page, but Prosinski came up and made the tackle 1 yard shy of the first down at the 26.

KEEP AN EYE ON: The good news for Wyoming's offense is that opposing defenses don't know its identity. The bad news is, neither does Wyoming. The Cowboys, who came into Saturday's game averaging just 246.8 yards on offense, didn't fare much better against the Rockets. Wyoming finished with 266 yards and gained 71 of those on a pair of trick plays. TCU, the Cowboys' next opponent, has a dramatically better defense than Toledo, and Wyoming again must figure out how to move the football.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It wasn't the prettiest game, and it wasn't the way we wanted to finish. But Coach (Dave Christensen) always says that wins are hard to come by. We had a gut check and our defense came up huge for us in the fourth quarter, and I'm just happy we walked away with a 'W.'" -- Wyoming wide receiver David Leonard, after the Toledo game.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: WR David Leonard just finds a way to be productive. On Saturday, he had a team-high seven receptions for 62 yards. He threw a 37-yard TD pass to fellow WR Chris McNeill. No other Wyoming receiver had more than one reception against Toledo. Despite all the weapons that coach Dave Christensen has brought in the past two seasons, Leonard remains Wyoming's most consistent skill player not named Austyn Carta-Samuels.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Cowboys, somewhat surprisingly, did not stick with the run-based changes it made the previous week against Air Force. Wyoming did an excellent job in bolting out to a 20-0 lead against Toledo but almost lost it because it couldn't eat up clock, forcing its defense back out on the field. The only chance the Cowboys have in the next two weeks against TCU and Utah is to control the clock, shorten the game and keep their defense off the field. That can't happen if lead RB Alvester Alexander can't average 2.0 yards per carry. He had just 35 yards on 21 rushes against the Rockets.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Junior LB Brian Hendricks, who suffered a neck injury last week against Air Force, was unable to play Saturday. Coach Dave Christensen said he should be available next week against TCU.

--Senior WR Zach Bolger was sidelined Saturday with an undisclosed injury. Coach Dave Christensen said he should be available next week against TCU.

--Redshirt freshman LB Devyn Harris made his first start, although he still split time with senior Keith Lewis.


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