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New Mexico Vs. Southern preview

Unlike his predecessor, first year New Mexico head coach Davie has made no outlandish pronouncements about the team he inherited. Some fans and listeners have gone so far as to say Davie is going to far the other way with his Lou Holtz-like downplaying of the Lobos.

But following three season that produced just 3 wins and a Fall camp that saw the dismissal of one player and suspension of two others (one, walk-on junior quarterback David Vega, who has since been suspended again), downplaying his team’s chances may be Davie’s best play at this point

Davie and his new cadre of coaches take over a program that is recovering from a three-year NCAA probation and has suffered from instability in retention. How unstable? Just 35 of the 60 players who accepted scholarships at UNM between 2009-11.

But that’s the past. The future begins now for Davie and New Mexico.

The Lobos return13 starters (eight on offense and five on defense), including seniors B.R. Holbrook (QB) and Lucas Reed (TE) and junior center Dillon Farrell. Holbrook holds the dubious distinction of being the only Lobo quarterback to have ever taken snap at the a Division I . Reed and Farrell both made pre-season watch lists – Reed for the John Mackey Award (for the second consecutive year) and Ferrell for the Remington Award.

If the Lobos can take advantage of their other returning starters – guard/center Lamar Bratton, tackles Korian Chambers and Darryl Johnson and guard Calvin McDowney and receiver Ty Kirk – they may be able to reverse their troubles on offense.

Throw in returning senior Lamaar "Flash: Thomas, who was sidelined by injury last season, and you have an offensive unit that could be tough to deal with, if it can master the nuances of offensive coordinator Bob Debesse’s Pistol offense.

On defense, New Mexico will need to find a way to replace several valuable players from the backfield. Toping that list is middle linebacker Carmen Messina, the Mountain West Conference’s leader in career tackles. Safeties Zach Dancel and Bubba Forest will also be missed along with cornerback Anthony Hooks.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Mills has brought in a 3-4 scheme that will likely emphasize speed and decisiveness, particularly at the linebacker positions. Senior Joseph Harris is likely one of the keys from his outside linebacker position.

Junior linebacker Dallas Bollema, who turned heads as a sophomore, looks to continue to impress in his senior year. The defensive line could be a key with two seniors, Reggie Ellis and Ugo Uzodinma, and one junior, Jocori Greer starting. The line took a hit on depth this past week however, when senior Rod Davis was declared ineligible for two games by the NCAA.

Senior leadership in the defensive backfield from Destry Berry, Freddy Young and DeShawn Mills will also be key.

Facing the Lobos in the opener on Saturday is a Southern University team that is coming off a tough week due to Hurricane Issac. The school shut down on Tuesday and Wednesday and the Jaguars’ practice time was negatively impacted in the later part of the week. Southern, which is located in Baton Rouge, La., comes off a 2011-12 campaign 4-7 and 4-5 in the Southwestern Athletic of the Football Championship Sudbivision.

The Jags are 0-5 all-time against FBS schools and 0-1 against current members of the Mountain West. Nevada beat Southern 20-0 in the 1980 season opener – when both teams were part of what was then called Division I-AA (and the Wolfpack was in the Big Sky Conference)

In 2011, Southern averaged 319.9 yards on offense averaged 319.9 yards (63.0 rushing, 256.9 passing) and 21.5 points per game. The Jaguars are expected to be a pass-first team on Saturday afternoon. The Jaguars used a two-player system at quarter back in 2011 with now-junior Dray Joseph and sophomore J.P. Douglas each spending time under center. Joseph, who went 113-of-212 for 1,544 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011, was named starter for this week’s game. Senior Michael Berry is the team’s leading returning receiver, tallying 508 yards and 7 touchdowns last year.

The Jaguars leading rusher in 2011, Sylvester Nzekwe, will sit out the UNM game with a bad ankle. Nzekwe ran for 620 yards in 2011 for a 3.8 average. Southern’s other backfield threat, Jerry Joseph, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Redshirt junior Darrius Coleman has since stepped up as a starter at running back.