One of the nagging questions in the Mountain West Conference this year is not who will finish first---Air Force, San Diego State, TCU or Boise State---but who will finish last. A lot of pundits are saying the New Mexico Lobos will fill that slot. That possibility is certainly a concern for third year head coach Mike Locksley (2-22). In defense of his poor record, Locksley has probably been distracted while battling several unrelated charges of unprofessional conduct leveled against him. With those questions now settled, the only question left to answer is if he and his pack of Lobos are going to be able to post a winning season this year.
"I'll be very disappointed if we don't put a product on the field that doesn't see us in a bowl game at the end of the year," Locksley stated in March. "Anything less than six wins for me, will be a disappointment."
Well, you might brace yourself for disappointment, Mike. The Lobos are still going with the no-huddle spread offense again this spring. The spread is good strategy, but considering that the team was outscored 544-187 last year, perhaps allowing the offense time to regroup in the huddle would be a better idea. The no-huddle, quick-play action requires timing and execution in both the running and passing game and that is something the Lobos have lacked. If nothing else, a huddle would give the defense more time to rest and keep the ball out of the hands of the opposing teams.
Locksley should know that while the quick-strike option can also work miracles for a faulty program, its not for everyone. But credit him with indications that things are improving in the Lobo den. Clearly there is more experience and more depth this year. One good sign of progress is the fierce competition among the New Mexico players who have not given up on their team. Nowhere is that more evident than at quarterback. Junior QB B. R. Holbrook #12, 6'3" 195 lbs completed 52.9% of his passes last year and in the seven games he played, he was 63 of 119 for 619 yards and two TDs. But the O-line let him get sacked 6 times. This year he is battling hard for the starting job against junior Stump Godfrey #11, 6'1", 210 lbs and sophmore Tarean Austin #8, 6'2" 205 lbs. Both of these QBs show they can handle the ball. Last season Godfrey was 57 of 97 for 553 yards and 5 TDs, while Austin went 44 of 90 for 398 yards with 2 TDs. Even though all three were injured last year, they are all healthy now and seasoned with the spring ball.
They will be throwing to a receiving corps that needs to show it can step up and make the big plays. The Lobos return their two leading receivers with junior WR Ty Kirk, #84, 6'2", 180 lbs who was 38 for 477 yards last year, and TE Lucas Reed #97, 6'6", 232 lbs who had 33 catches for 459 yards and 5 TDs last year. Sophmore TE Andrew Aho #89, 6'3", 225 lbs will be challenging Reed for the TE spot. WR Quintell Solomon #85, a junior out of Dallas, Texas will also be pushing for playing time. Last season he made short appearances in 3 games for 5 catches and 44 yards with a TD. Senior WR Michael Scarlett #9, 6'2", 191 lbs, could also see a little more time on the field if he stays healthy. Last year he was limited on the field after returning early from a knee injury.
The Lobos also have a kennel full of first-year receivers who could make a difference on offense. Wide receivers Martize Barr #3; Detchauz Wray #16, Deon Long, #20, and Lamaar Thomas #81. They need to make their case. Thomas and Long sat out last year because of NCAA transfer rules, but are itching to get into the fight.
To move the ball effectively, the Red Menace will need to improve its running game. Running back Demond Dennis has left the team, but two returning RBs who can haul the pig downfield are senior James Wright #13, 5'11", 227 lbs and junior Kasey Carrier #21, 5"9" 180 lbs. Last season Carrier ran for 373 yards on 104 carries and 2 TDs with an average of 3.6 yards, while Wright ran for 304 yards on 89 carries, averaging 3.4 yards and 2 TDs. But another running threat is Demarcus Rogers #4, a wide receiver who tore his ACL and missed last season and is now a running back. Word is he has performed great in spring ball and put up 170 yards rushing and six touchdowns in two scrimmages. Look for Rogers to share RB duties with Wright and Carrier.
I haven't covered the offensive linemen. Last year, the line was no better than average or below. You can't allow 27 sacks in 12 games and expact accolades. Maybe it is a stroke of luck that this year the Lobos have only one returning starter on the O-line---sophmore Dillon Farrell #63, 6'5", 290 lbs who has already shown he can make a difference up front. Perhaps an overhaul with new bodies will help him get it done this season.
I know, the Lobo defense was horrendous last season. They gave up 72 points to Oregon in their first game and it just went down hill from there. Yes, I know they lost by an average of 45.3 points a game. And I also know they might have lost the Wyoming game too, except for the interception by DB Bubba Forrest #28 at the UNM two. But this article is about the Lobo offense.
This past Saturday was New Mexico's Cherry-Silver spring game. There were definately players out there making a difference. The Silver team walked all up and down the Cherry, romping to a lopsided 41-0 win. A good note to mention was that the points came on both sides of the ball. The bad news was that the defense is still giving it up big on the field. You have to hope that the switch to a 4-2-5 scheme this year is going to help.
"I think what you saw out there was the athleticism of our team has increased and the knowledge of our system has increased," said coach Locksley after the game.
I'll buy into that. And now that spring ball is behind them, Locksley and his coaches can sit down and take a hard look at both the offensive and defensive strategies---and take a close, hard look at the individual players. At players like senior linebacker Carmen Messina #58, who is hungry for a winning season. Like all Lobos, Messina wants to get to a bowl game. He has heart. He has the drive. With career stats of 315 tackles, 6 forced fumbles and an interception, Messina has continued to improve. He is ready for the New Mexico Lobos to take that next step and chase down a winning season.