In what might be a season defining game Saturday night at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, the New Mexico Lobos play host to the Fresno State Bulldogs. Gametime is at 5:30 p.m. Mountain, television broadcast will be on ESPNU, radio coverage will be carried by the Lobo Radio Network.
The Lobos are coming off of a heartbreaking 20-18 loss suffered at Colorado State last Saturday. A game the Lobos needed badly to have a shot at, not only the MWC championship, but also postseason play. The Lobos just needed to pick up one first down and the game against the Rams would’ve been sealed as the Lobos led 18-17 late, however the offense couldn’t pick up that first down, punted to Colorado State, who drove down and kicked the game winning field goal. It is a loss like that that can demoralize a team. And with the last six games featuring four teams that are at, or near, the top of the conference. Without looking too much past this week, which is one of those four teams, let’s preview Saturday’s tilt.
Fresno State is sneaky good. They have not gotten too much attention from the national media, which is odd for a team that is a Minnesota goal line interception away from being undefeated. In their five victories the Bulldogs have an average winning margin of 30.8. They have not allowed a touchdown in their last two contests against Nevada and Wyoming. The Bulldogs also have an explosive offense to go along with a dominate defense. The offense is led by quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who is completing 71.4% of his passes, has 11 touchdowns this season to just two interceptions, and also has seven rushing touchdowns. He torched the Lobos last season with 299 passing yards, and three touchdowns, on just 13 completions. One of his TD passes was to KeeSean Johnson, who is the leading receiver for the Bulldogs this season. It will be key for Aaron Blackwell, and the UNM defensive front, to get pressure on McMaryion so that he doesn’t have time to pick the secondary apart.
For the Lobos it has been a season full of ups and downs. Sitting at 3-3, with a conference record of 1-1, the Lobos could sit and watch the fact that they are 3-3, or can look at the fact that they are three or four plays away from being 5-1. The aforementioned loss to Colorado State the Lobos had the game in hand until the final two drives. The offense just needed one first down to pick up the win. In the loss against Liberty the Lobos offense committed four turnovers, two of which led to Liberty touchdowns. A loss by just nine points, there’s the difference between a win and a loss with those two touchdowns.
Nonetheless, the Lobos still sit at 3-3. Sheriron Jones had been great entering last week, but struggled to move the ball against the Rams. Problem is that this is a Fresno State defense that ranks number 10 in the country and first in the MWC. Picking up a first down will be as difficult as it was on the final drive last week.
The Lobos have been really balanced on offense this season, and will need to continue to be. The biggest key in this game for the Lobos will be possession. Time of possession that is. In their three wins this season the Lobos have won the time of possession battle by at least seven minutes, and nearly 13 minutes in two of those games. In their three losses, the Lobos have lost the time of possession battle. In this one it will be key to keep McMaryion and the Bulldog offense off the field. In Fresno State’s only loss this season, they lost the time of possession battle to Minnesota by close to 13 minutes. Short passes, and chunk runs will be the necessity of the offense to do this.
If the Lobos can control the time of possession, and force a turnover, or two, then we could have the recipe of the upset. Hopefully Fresno State is looking past the Lobos with their date against Hawaii next week, and is sleepwalking in this one. The Lobos haven’t beaten Fresno State since 1994, but they have played each other only six times since. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Lobos pull out the upset; 24-23.