college football picks Utah at New Mexico 9-18-10

September 18, 2010

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GAME NOTES: Already with one Mountain West Conference win to their credit on the young season, the 14th-ranked Utah Utes tried to make it two in a row as they pay a visit to University Stadium in Albuquerque where they will contend against the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday night.

For the third year in a row, the Utes are trying to get off to a 2-0 start in league play and took the first step towards that accomplishment by defeating UNLV at Rice-Eccles Stadium last weekend, 38-10. The win was also the 19th straight at home for Utah, which now gives the program the longest such run in the history of the MWC and is the third longest active win streak behind Oklahoma (32) and Boise State (26). The record for most home wins in a row for the school itself still stands at 26 in a row, recorded between 1928-34.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham also reached a milestone with the triumph as it marked the 50th of his career, against just 17 defeats.

The Lobos are at the other end of the success spectrum unfortunately, winning just once since the start of the 2009 campaign. A team that finished 1-11 a year ago, New Mexico has looked awful in two games so far in 2010, allowing a combined 124 points to Oregon and Texas Tech. While being shutout by the Ducks in the opener (72-0), the Lobos showed at least some signs of life in their 52-17 setback versus the Red Raiders a week ago, but still head coach Mike Locksley has a huge uphill battle ahead of him.

“The number one emotion for me right now is disappointment,” said coach Locksley after the Texas Tech debacle. “We just beat ourselves. Anytime you have 16 penalties in a game, there definitely has to be a great amount of disappointment.”

The Utes rolled to a 45-14 win in last year’s meeting with New Mexico and that has Utah ahead in the all-time series by a commanding 32-17-2 margin as a result. The Utes, who have won three in a row over UNM and held the Lobos to no more than two touchdowns in any of those meetings, are 13-12-1 in games played in Albuquerque in the series

“It’s always good to get started on a positive note in conference play,” coach Whittingham noted of last week’s victory. “It’s important to get that first win. We played pretty good football against UNLV. There were a lot of things that showed up against Pittsburgh that got corrected this week. We were much more efficient in the red zone offensively.”

The Utes were inside the red zone three times and all three times they made it into the end zone, thanks mostly to the efforts of Eddie Wide who had TD runs of three and 13 yards, while quarterback Terrance Cain hit Jereme Brooks with a 20-yard scoring strike late in the first half to account for the other tally.

Cain, who got the start in favor of an injured Jordan Wynn who is still nursing a sprained right thumb and is listed as questionable for this week, converted 13-of-20 passes for 207 yards and two scores, while Wide piled up 77 yards rushing on 15 attempts.

From a defensive standpoint the Utes permitted UNLV inside the red zone three times and allowed the Rebels just a single score, and that came on a field goal. In fact, were it not for a blocked punt returned for a TD by the Rebels, the visitors would have been held out of the end zone altogether in the meeting.

In two games, the defense for the Utes has been right on target, even if it has eased up as games have gone along. The team has allowed a modest 17 ppg and held foes to just 92 ypg on the ground, so the big guys up front have been doing something right. Putting up some very solid numbers in the early going is linebacker Chaz Walker who already has 27 tackles to his credit, is first in the conference and tied for fifth in the country with an average of 13.5 stops per game.

Handling the offense at the moment is Cain who, until seeing limited time in the final five games of last season, managed to throw 11 touchdowns and just five picks, so he clearly has the talent to handle the action in the pocket. But just for fun the Utes like to change things up a bit and every once in a while they allowed Matt Asiata to take a direct snap and that tact allows for a number of different options for a player who already has a pair of passing touchdowns in his career.

While the Utes have a versatile player like Asiata and a hard-nosed runner like Wide, New Mexico is left to figure out if and where it has any reliable offensive options these days. Granted, the team looked better against Texas Tech than it did versus Oregon in the opener, but how much worse could it really get for coach Locksley and his crew?

Against the Red Raiders B.R. Holbrook hit 32-of-50 passes for 323 yards and a score, but he was also picked off twice and sacked four times and that brought the team’s overall rushing total down to just 97 yards on 27 attempts. Ty Kirk had his moments as a receiver with five catches for 119 yards, but the defense for the Lobos just wouldn’t allow them to remain competitive.

In the first quarter the Red Raiders needed a total of just seven plays to generate three straight touchdowns to open the game’s scoring, so by then the Lobo defense was already in a deep hole. Johnathan Rainey came up with one tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a recovery, but that was the extent of the good news for the group.

While it hasn’t been entirely the fault of the Lobos defense, in just two games the team has surrendered a combined 49 points in the first quarter and a whopping 90 points in the first half, which means UNM has given itself little chance to be relevant even 15 minutes into meetings. Not surprisingly, with 62 ppg allowed, the Lobos rank last in the nation in scoring defense and their 591 ypg permitted is also worst among FBS schools.

With 6.5 receptions per game Kirk is ranked first in the MWC at the moment, but considering how much the Lobos have had to throw the ball in an effort to be even close to competitive, that number is more a product of desperation than anything else.

Utah might not be out for hitting the 50-point plateau this weekend, but the Utes also have to keep in mind that their performance will be gauged against how well Oregon and Texas Tech performed against New Mexico so coach Whittingham might not have a choice in the matter.


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