New Mexico 101

HEAD COACH <b>Rocky Long</b> has built New Mexico into a perennial contender, with the Lobos' improving their record every season since his arrival in 1998. But he knows he missed a golden opportunity last year to take the program to the next level. Utah ended up grabbing the Mountain West Conference glory in what should have been UNM's coming out party. Now 25 seniors lighter, Long must rebuild his unique defensive scheme and find a passing game to complement the power rushing attack.

WHEN: Friday, September 3; 5 p.m.
WHERE: University Stadium (37,370 capacity), Albuquerque
TV: Live on ESPN
Last meeting: 2003; WSU 23 UNM 13
Line: WSU by 1.5

LAST SEASON:
The Lobos' 2003 campaign was a bittersweet one. They made a great comeback after a 1-3 start to finish 8-5 and second place in the Mountain West. They defeated eventual champion Utah on the road and schooled conference contenders Air Force and Colorado State on consecutive weeks. But two measly points against rival BYU and a three-point loss to UNLV kept the Lobos out of the Liberty Bowl. Either victory would have given them their first conference title. Instead, they traveled to the Las Vegas Bowl for the second straight year where they received a public flogging at the hands of Oregon State, 55-14.

THE LOBOS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know: DonTrell Moore, RB: Moore would be a leading Heisman contender at a higher profile school. Publicity not withstanding, he is still the best player in his conference. Returning from a 1,450 yard, 19-touchdown rushing campaign, the junior tailback can carry the offense.

D.D. Cox, RB: Cox is a bit smaller than Moore but has been very effective with the ball, averaging more than five yards per carry. The senior would likely start for any other team in the MWC.

Kole McKamey, QB: While former WSU QB Tali Ena would love to get a crack at sustained playing time after five years of collegiate toil, the sophomore McKamey will get the starting nod. UNM runs a basic ball-control offense, so his role is relatively simple: use rushing audibles to keep the backs effective, and then execute the kill shots once the defense over-extends. But if he can't make the Cougars respect his arm, the Lobos' offense will quickly go stagnant.

Claude Terrell, OT: Leader of the UNM offensive line (known as "The Hitmen"), Terrell is a monstrous 6-3, 340 pounds. The Lombardi candidate has been switched to tackle this year after spending most of his career at guard. He is one of three returning starters up front.

Hank Baskett, WR: Receiver is a weak position for New Mexico. The Lobos are counting on the 6-4, 215-pound Baskett to emerge. He certainly looks the part, and had 17 catches for 288 yards last year.

Overview: The Lobos are all about running the ball and they have the talent to do it, featuring a two-headed monster at tailback in Moore and Cox. Over the last two seasons, the two have combined for 3,226 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns. They will be running behind one of the biggest lines in the nation. Averaging 6-foot-5, 323 pounds per man, the Lobos are simply overwhelming up front, and try to wear defenses down over the course of the game. They are also tremendously efficient in the red zone. Expect them to try to capitalize on WSU's lack of proven depth on the defensive line.

Strategy: While the Lobo's running game is well known, their passing ability is a total x-factor. Three-year starting QB Casey Kelly is gone, along with both starting receivers. The Cougars will look to make the UNM replacements prove their worth by forcing them into passing situations early. If New Mexico's receivers prove effective, it could be a dangerous situation for WSU.

THE LOBOS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Nick Speegle, OLB: Speegle is UNM's version of Will Derting: a hard-hitting playmaker with deceptive speed. He managed 80 tackles last season, 10 of those for a loss in yards. He needs to both anchor and coordinate the Lobos' complex system.

Marcus Parker, NT: At 265 pounds, Parker might be a touch undersized for a defensive tackle, but he is actually the biggest player on the entire defense by 10 pounds.

Gabriel Fulbright, CB: A returning all-conference second-team selection, he leads a Lobo secondary that is frequently left on an island. He and fellow returning starter Brandon Payne will be counted on heavily to go one-on-one with opposing receivers, while the safeties focus on the run. The Lobos are very high on this year's secondary.

Overview: New Mexico runs a shifting 3-3-5 defense that is meant to confuse and swarm opposing offenses. It has been highly effective, with the Lobos finishing in the top 30 nationally in total defense each of the last four years. Last season, they held the Cougs to just 23 points (only USC and UW did better). Nationally, the Lobos ranked fifth in run defense, holding teams to 86 yards per game. The good news for WSU is that seven starters from that D are gone and the Lobos are left rebuilding around one great linebacker and a couple of talented defensive backs (much like WSU). The relative weakness of the group is the defensive line, which is small and inexperienced. Long will result to cannibalizing his offensive line when he feels the need for more run-stopping beef on defense.

Strategy: New Mexico likes to be the only team running the ball, and invites teams to try and decipher their scheme and take chances through the air. But the Lobos are undersized enough that their ability to stop the run will be frequently tested. While WSU has led the nation in quarterback sacks over the past four seasons, New Mexico has quietly risen to fifth on that same list. Last year, Cougar QB Matt Kegel was sacked five times and the offense never truly got firing despite good field position much of the day. Quarterback Josh Swogger will be under extreme pressure to correctly read the Lobos' confusing defense and make accurate throws. The Lobo defense is designed to capitalize on misreads by the QB, so turnovers are a concern. If UNM fails to establish their pass rush, the long ball should open up as the Lobo secondary is often left in single coverage.

THE LOBOS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The kicking game is relatively solid for New Mexico. Punter Tyler Gaus consistently averages around 40 yards per punt and put 22 inside the 20-yard line last season. Kicker Wes Zunker was perfect on kicks inside of 40 yards and finished 15-for-17 on the year.

FINAL THOUGHTS
A trip to Albuquerque is nothing the Cougs can take lightly. The Lobos have won eight of their last 10 home games and are excited about playing a big-name opponent on national TV. Long will have his team fired up and looking to finally knock off a Pac-10 opponent (they are 0-6 over the past 25 years). Expect an aggressive, punishing style of play from the Lobos and a raucous crowd. Both teams have young quarterbacks that have struggled some in practice so a conservative, low scoring game is probable.


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