After a couple year break, the UTEP Miners and the New Mexico Lobos will once again square off in 2013, in what will be the season opener for the Miners. That contest is slated for September 7th at the Sun Bowl.
The Lobos, who are coming off a 4-9 campaign in 2012, will look to keep things headed in the right direction in 2013 building on that four win total that first year head man Bob Davie put together. Those four wins bested the total from the three previous years combined as the program had gone through three straight one win seasons.
As a whole, the Lobos will be looking to replace a number of key players from 2012, as they return only 5 starters on the offensive side of the ball, and 4 on defense.
For the offense, gone are the likes of starting quarterback B.R. Holbrook and top wide receiver Ty Kirk, but back are solid weapons like top rusher Kasey Carrier and dual threat quarterback Cole Gautsche.
While some key players do return, there's no doubt the Lobos and their coaching staff certainly have their work cut out for them in 2013. And, that's exactly why they are set on consistency throughout, more than just wins and losses. In a recent interview with Campus Insiders, coach Davie had this to say about his second year at New Mexico.
"The point was, a year ago, you know you hear so much kinda coach's talk about changing the culture and getting an identity. That couldn't be more true about what we did here in our first year at New Mexico...Hopefully here in the second year, just the level of x's and o's, the level of how we play and execute, we can improve on."
All things considered, one thing the Lobos certainly did a year ago was find that identity. While their offense has been less than stellar in recent history, in 2011 they did average nearly 30 pass attempts per contest. In 2012, that number dropped to less 12.
That type of virtual abandonment meant only one thing. This team is trying to establish itself as a run heavy offense. And, they did a fairly good job of that. As far as attempts go, the Lobos were 6th in the nation with 688 (53 a game). They also ranked 5th in rushing yards per game (301.2 yds), and 3rd in average yards per attempt (5.69).
That type of production from the run game is exactly what allowed New Mexico to not only pick up four wins, but to also be an all around competitive ball club. Truth be told, they weren't too far off from reaching a bowl game. They actually lost five one possession games on the season, and three out of four to end the year.
If Davie can accomplish his goal of getting this team to become more consistent in how they execute, this could end up being a team that could reach its first bowl game since 2007. Interestingly enough, that also happened to be a year in which the Miners opened up the season against the Lobos at the Sun Bowl, a 10-6 win for UTEP.
But enough about history, and what could be. It's time to talk a little more about the facts, and we'll start on the offensive side of the ball. Now we know the Lobos want to be a run first team, and it certainly helps to return your leading rusher, and top rushing quarterback.
If the Lobos are to be successful in 2013, it will have to start with senior tailback Kasey Carrier. In 2012, the 5'9 185 LB back out of Pearland, TX rushed for 1469 yards and 15 touchdowns on 255 carries, good for an average of 5.8 yards a touch.
And, while Carrier will certainly be a huge asset for the Lobos, it doesn't hurt to have true sophomore Cole Gautsche back under center either. Last year, after starting quarterback B.R. Holbrook went down with a shoulder injury against Fresno State, Gautsche took over as the starter and handled himself as well as a true freshman could've.
While he wasn't exactly a big passing threat, going only 13-31 for 222 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, he did end up as the second leading rusher for the Lobos, carrying 109 times for 760 and 7 touchdowns. One can only expect that he'd improve on his numbers in 2013.
There to help him will be much of his offensive line as the Lobos return five linemen who have more than 10 career starts, and four that have more than 20. Senior center Dillon Farrell leads the way with 34 career starts, and senior tackle Darryl Johnson is just behind him with 26. This group might face a bit of rearranging heading into 2013, but they're an experienced unit and a great asset to this run first offense.
That experience throughout, in the running game, will be key for the Lobos as they will be almost completely rebuilding their receiving corps. No returning receiver had even 100 yards receiving in 2012, nor did any reach double digits in catches. The returning production in the passing game, or lack thereof, shouldn't be the biggest concern for this offense, but it is something to consider.
Defensively, the Lobos are still searching to find their identity. In 2012, they had fairly respectable ranks of 75th in rushing defense (174 yds/game), and 79th in scoring defense (30.2 ppg), but the unit was torched through the air, allowing 270 yards a game (106th), and ranked 2nd to last in yards per play, giving up 6.8 yards a snap. Ultimately, that inability to stop offenses is what cost New Mexico.
The bad news for the Lobo defense is that they only return four starters; the good news is two of those four happen to be perhaps their best defensive players, giving them at least something to build on heading into 2013.
One of those two happens to be starting defensive end Jacori Greer. In 2012, he led the Lobo linemen with 25.5 tackles, including eight for loss, to go along with five sacks. Considering the only other two returning linemen with any experience accounted for only five tackles combined a year ago, its nice to have a guy of Greer's caliber leading the way.
Moving to the middle of the 3-4 base defense, the Lobos return starting weakside linebacker Dallas Bollema and strongside linebacker Rashad Rainey. Bollema will provide a huge boost for this defense, as he did a little bit of everything a year ago (73 tackles, 3 ints, 2 FR, 1 sack), while leading the team in tackles.
The secondary is certainly an area of concern heading into the season. Not only was this the weakest link of the defense a year ago, they return only one starter, and only a handful of players with any experience at all. Tim Foley is the lone returning starter, but he's a bit undersized, and will need a ton of help from some newcomers if this unit is to be any better than they were a year ago.
As far as special teams go, the Lobos return both their starting punter and plackicker, but the real bright spot is the return of kick returner Charles Clayton. In 2012, Clayton returned 20 kicks for an average of 30 yards per, and also took two to the house. He's a real weapon, and will definitely force teams to at the least be aware of who and where they are kicking to.
Its hard to say exactly what will happen with this team in 2013. There are certainly some key pieces to work with on both sides of the ball, but it will take more than just those few to really make this team turn the corner.
Coach Bob Davie definitely has them heading in the right direction, and will likely turn this program completely around, but there's still that question of just how long it will take. His offensive scheme, with the pistol formation and triple option style, seems to be very effective. But, can the defense get things going?
As far as the matchup on September 7th, it should be an interesting one. The Lobos style of offense would certainly have created problems for Mike Price coached teams in years past, but will that prove to be the same case under new head man Sean Kugler? We'll just have to wait and see.