Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NEW MEXICO wraps up, hitting bottom. [updated]

It's hard to find the silver lining in this car wreck; New Mexico had about as bad a season as possible. Even worse, nobody expected it. But Locksley's recruiting magic may have dampened the effect of the Lobos' off-the-field woes, and let's face it: there's only one direction Locksley can pull (or, dare we say it, punch?) his team after the tailspin in Albuquerque this year: up.

That this year began with 0-3, against Texas A&M, Tulsa, and Air Force, wasn't completely surprising; that New Mexico couldn't manage an offensive touchdown until almost halftime in its third game (AFA) was. The Lobos returning depth at QB and O-line was bizarrely meaningless, and newcomers Demond Dennis and James Wright at runningback seemed totally lost. Worry turned to panic when lowly New Mexico State rallied to beat the Lobos in week 4, and by 0-5 a week later, the crap hit the fan. Mike Locksley punched, or didn't, an assistant coach, triggering a ten-day suspension.

Credit the Lobos, however: they kept fighting (their opponents, that is). At 0-9, New Mexico scared the bejeebers out of BYU, and were it not for otherworldly bad luck at field goals (two hit the uprights, a third blocked), would have ended the skid at nine losses. Said skid ended a week later at ten, when New Mexico ran all over Colorado State (its only successful rushing game, and not coincidentally, its ownly successful game at all) for the Lobos' sole win.

Rushing is the primary ill plaguing the team. A full seven teams held New Mexico under 100 yards on the ground (well under; the Lobos' average output in those games: 53 net yards rushing!). In its four other losses, New Mexico managed just over 140 yards rushing, on average. With such low production, losing three starting linemen isn't necessarily a blow, although C Erik Cook is the '09 all-MWC first-team center, and will be missed. All three graduating linemen have experienced backups, perhaps a hopeful sign for more potency on the ground in 2010. All of New Mexico's runningbacks return-- and freshmen Kasey Carrier and Demond Dennis improved as the season wore on. As in '09, these fellows will have more to do with their team's success than any other unit.

Elsewhere on offense the team was young; only three seniors were on the two-deep at WR, TE, FB, and QB. WR Michael Scarlett will be the go-to receiver in '10. Sophomore B.R. Holbrook appears to lead the battle to replace Donovan Porterie under center, but because he played in several games this season without sparking any improvement, he's not going to cement that starting role without besting any freshman that joins the team in the fall. That uncluttered depthchart may aid Locksley in luring a decent QB recruit to don the cherry and white. (Tarean Austin, in Florida, is the prime target.)

On defense, tackle-monster Carmen Messina returns, as do both corners and 3/4 of the starters on the line; clearly they need more from the offense to succeed. They do get more depth, regardless, as DT transfers Ugo Udzomina and Reggie Ellis that followed Locksley from Illinois have finished sitting out the mandatory year. The Lobos bring in several freshmen DBs who may contribute early. To date Locksley's crew tops only UNLV in the conference in number of recruits committed so far (eight). Lobo fans are high on Locksley's recruiting, however, and expect the schematic 180 that threw their team for such a loop in 2009 to resolve itself much more favorably in 2010.

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