New Mexico vs. Fresno State: Game Preview

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The Lobos have not taken the step forward that some pundits predicted, but can they play the spoiler for a Bulldogs team with the BCS in its sights?

WEEK 13: #16 Fresno State Bulldogs vs. New Mexico Lobos

WHEN: Saturday, November 23 -- 1:00 PM, PST.

WHERE: Bulldog Stadium; Fresno, CA (41,031)

2013 SEASON: Fresno State 9-0 (6-0), New Mexico 3-7 (1-5)

TV: ESPNews

RADIO: Fresno's two ESPN affiliates, 940 and 1600 AM, will carry the Bulldogs broadcast in English and Spanish, respectively. The Lobos broadcast can be heard on 770 AM in and around Albuquerque.

SERIES RECORD: The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 9-4. In 2012, Fresno beat New Mexico 49-32 at University Stadium.

WEB SITES: GoBulldogs.com, Fresno State's official athletics site | GoLobos.com, New Mexico's official athletics site

There were some corners of the Mountain West cognoscenti that considered the New Mexico Lobos a potential dark horse for the conference crown. Things haven't quite come together as expected, as coach Bob Davie's option attack has more or less run in place while the defense has taken steps backwards. A road matchup with a powerful Fresno State offense would seem to spell disaster.

It is unclear, however, whether the Bulldogs have learned their lesson about putting away inferior opponents. Ejiro Ederaine and the Fresno front seven have been the equal of Derek Carr and the offense in the last few weeks, but this Lobos squad jumped out to a 21-0 lead a year ago before fading in the second half. If the 'Dogs aren't prepared, New Mexico may accomplish the unthinkable.

What to watch - New Mexico: Much has been made of the wild inconsistency of quarterbacks Cole Gautsche and Clayton Mitchem. I don't wish to alarm anyone, but the raw numbers suggest that the UNM passing game has actually been markedly better in 2013. Gautsche's 6-0f-9 performance a week ago was his best of the year, but he threw two interceptions and will miss the rest of the season with a concussion. Mitchem has mostly had to deal with impossible situations -- the Lobos were down to Pitt, San Diego State and Colorado State, among others, by the time Mitchem took the field -- but his numbers have provided a reasonable counter to Kasey Carrier and Crusoe Gongbay.

However, Gautsche's concussion isn't nearly as damaging to the offense as the one that effectively ends Carrier's career at UNM. Losing an all-conference talent at any position hurts, but Carrier is among the very best players in the Mountain West (the countdown curse strikes again!) and Gongbay will be hard pressed to match his production.

It comes as no surprise that the tenor of the game will be established at the point of attack. LaMar Bratton, Dillon Farrell and Jamal Price will have to win the battle against an aggressive defensive line that ranks among the nation's best in tackles for loss. Managing third down situations will be critical, as the Lobos are hovering around 40% for the year but have converted 50% in the last three games, because the best defense really might be an offense that keeps Derek Carr off the field.

What to watch - Fresno State: The formula for Fresno's success is likely to be a familiar one: Torch the opposing secondary early and bring the hammer late. Davante Adams provides an unforgiving assignment for any top cornerback (in this case, Cranston Jones), but it has been Josh Harper that has often been the primary beneficiary of overmatched secondary depth. He owns the best yards per catch average of Fresno's receiver trio, and has more third-down conversions than Adams and Isaiah Burse, as well. Don't be surprised if it's Harper who tops the box score again on Saturday.

The danger lies, as it did against San Diego State, when Derek Carr gets off to a slow start. He threw an interception and had a drive stall inside New Mexico territory early in last year's game, and it wasn't really until the defense forced a three-and-out at the start of the second half that the offense hit its stride. The Lobos have surrendered 8 1/2 yards per pass attempt this year, though, so offensive coordinator Dave Schramm will give Carr plenty of opportunity to turn it around if that happens again. The senior quarterback has more first-half pass attempts than luminaries like Jameis Winston, A.J. McCarron and Zach Mettenberger have period.

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