Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
It's Homecoming week for the New Mexico Lobos (2-3) this week. And they welcome home a former head coach - Dennis Franchione, the current head coach of Football Bowl Subdivision newcomers the Texas State Bobcats (2-2). With TSU climbing into the ranks of the FBS full time and UNM trying to climb out of the Mountain West Conference cellar, this is a close match-up of teams trying to establish themselves in 2012.
Franchione is best known by fans of college football as the former head coach at Alabama and most recently Texas A&M. But Franchione began his Division I FBS career coaching at UNM after leaving Texas State (then known as Southwest Texas St. in what was then called Division I-AA) after successful two years.
Franchione , who won a spending six season with the Lobos and running up a 33-36 record and leading New Mexico to a Western Athletic Conference Mountain Division title in his final season, 1997, and the Lobos’ first bowl berth in 41 years.
Franchione was hired by Texas Christian before the Insight.com Bowl, but he was allowed to coach UNM in the 20-14 loss to Arizona.
New Mexico (2-3) appears to be on its way back to the winning ways that Franchione helped establish in Albuquerque. The Lobos were lightly regarded coming into the season but were able to push league favorite Boise St. to the brink last week, losing 32-29 after trailing 25-0 at halftime.
Freshman quarterback Cole Gautsche was a big part of that comeback, rushing for 71 yards on 11 carries and scoring two rushing touchdowns in the second half, redeeming his fumble on the first drive of the game that led to a Broncos field goal.
The Lobo rushing game was in full effect against BSU, racking up 330 of UNM’s 374 yards. The run was so effective for New Mexico that they attempted just one pass in the second half.
The Lobo defense also played a part in the comeback, stuffing the Broncos at the UNM 1 yard line on their second possession of the third quarter to swing the momentum in New Mexico’s favor.
The Lobos are currently 10th in the nation in rushing, averaging 253.8 yards per game. UNM is also ranked 4th in the nation in fewest penalty yards, just 28.8 yards per game and 17th in sacks allowed, just four in five games.
Texas State’s game against Nevada was the exact opposite of UNM’s. The Bobcats led 21-10 midway through the second quarter but were outscored 24-0 the rest of the way to lose to the Wolfpack of the Mountain West.
Andy Erickson led the Bobcats with career-bests of eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown and senior quarterback Shaun Rutherford went 15-of-22 passing for 143 yards and two touchdowns against Nevada.
Rutherford enters the New Mexico game ranked fourth among the WAC leaders in passing efficiency with a rating of 156.7. Rutherford has completed 56 of 82 passes for 651 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Texas State’s challenge on defense will clearly be to shut down an option rushing attack that is beginning to pick up steam. The Bobcats’ defense, which is allowing an average of 495.25 yards per game, is not as highly regarded as the Boise State defense that UNM was able move efficiently against last week.
On offense, TSU’s balanced attack may want to swing more towards passing, as the Lobos’ much maligned defensive secondary was largely unable to slow down Boise State last week or keep the Broncos from converting critical third downs – especially late in the game.
New Mexico’s offense may not need to increase its passing frequency, but keeping the same level of efficiency may be a key. Rushing the ball at the same rate as it has in the last two weeks will go a long ways towards a homecoming victory this week. The Lobos and the Bobcats both excel at winning the time of possession battle. The team that wins that battle will likely win the game.
UNM’s kick returning and kicking has been a decisive strength this season and special teams could be the edge the Lobos will need this week in what should prove to be an exciting, evenly-matched game.