This is a tale of two hot teams. After starting the season in a rocky fashion, both New Mexico and Hawaii have managed to win three of their last four games and are viable threats in conference play.
While New Mexico has done their damage almost solely on the ground, Hawaii has a balanced attack behind the running of Diocemy Saint Juste (603 rushing yards on the season) and the efficiency of quarterback Dru Brown (1243 passing yards on a 63% passing rate). So how can the Lobos leave Honolulu with the victory?
1. Shut down wide receiver Marcus Kemp
Kemp has 42 receptions for 787 yards on the season. The next best Warrior receiver is John Ursua with 26 catches for 365 yards. That is quite a difference which demonstrates just how often Hawaii's quarterbacks target the receiver. And who can blame them? At 6'4'', Kemp's size gives him an advantage on nearly every secondary. Such will be the case on Saturday night against the Lobos.
Thus far this season, the cherry-and-silver have struggled against large receivers and it will be key for them to buck that trend Saturday night. If they can contain Kemp, who had two touchdowns off of 151 yards last week, UNM will stand a chance.
2. The defense must repeat last week's performance
Okay, this is another defense-oriented key, but it is a valid point. After I've criticized the Lobos' defense all season, last week they were dominant. They forced and scored off of a turnover, something that they have struggled with all season. Furthermore, their success on defense had a notable affect on the team's confidence which will hopefully carry into this week.
Dakota Cox and Nik D'Avanzo continue to anchor the defense and their jobs will all the more difficult this week. After Saint Juste had a quiet game last week, I'm sure that he will be anxious to assert himself this week. The defensive line and linebackers have the tough task of preventing him from breaking a long run. Here's a fun fact: the Lobos have the 50th best defense in the nation, giving up 378 yards a game, precisely 100 yards less than Hawaii's defense.
3. Hold on to the ball
Last week two UNM quarterbacks passed for a combined 11 attempts, so we all know what the Lobos are going to do on offense: run. Hawaii is undoubtedly preparing for the triple-option, but the curious thing is that no matter how predictable the offense is, it continues to rack up yards behind Tyrone Owens and Teriyon Gipson. What absolutely cannot happen against Hawaii is the three fumbles that the Lobos coughed up against Louisiana Monroe.
The Warriors will make the Lobos pay dearly for such mistakes. My "Hold on to the ball" key has a double meaning though. Not only does UNM need to reduce their fumbles, they also need to control the clock. I suspect that the Lobos' defense is top 50 because their offense is 8th in the nation in time of possession. The more time that the triple-option is on the field, the less time Brown, Saint Juste, and Kemp have to do their damage. Holding on to the ball, in both senses, will give the Lobos a real shot to win this game.