Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: For the last several years, the New Mexico Lobos have had tremendous difficulty putting together a solid 60 minutes of football and because of that, as well as other factors, head coach Mike Locksley didn't survived the 2011 campaign.
Just four games in, following defeats to Colorado State (14-10), Arkansas (52-3), Texas Tech (59-13) and even Sam Houston State (48-45) in overtime, the administration at UNM saw it necessary to relieve Locksley of his duties, installing associate head coach and defensive coordinator George Barlow as the interim head coach even before the end of September. Locksley, who dealt with an age and sex discrimination complaint lodged against him in 2009 by a former administrative assistant at New Mexico and was also suspended that same year for 10 days after getting into an altercation with an assistant coach, managed a mere two wins in 28 games with the Lobos. Putting Barlow in charge was a much-needed change, but it did little to alter the outcomes on the field as the squad rattled off five consecutive setbacks to run its losing streak to nine.
Following a stretch of four games where the Lobos were outscored by a staggering 195-14, Barlow finally notched his first victory with a 21-14 triumph over UNLV at home in Mountain West Conference action. Unfortunately, there were still two games to play on the schedule, a 31-10 setback against Wyoming and a 45-0 thrashing at the hands of Boise State, the newest member of the MWC.
Even with the scoring burst against Sam Houston State in September, UNM placed last among the 120 schools that compete at the FBS level with a mere 12.0 ppg. Add to that a defense that was 119th nationally with a ridiculous 41.7 ppg allowed and you could see how it was a lost campaign for the Lobos. Yet another failed season in Albuquerque, the Lobos made a change at head coach and managed to convince former Notre Dame head man Bob Davie to return to the sidelines. Davie, who most recently worked as a television analyst, produced a record of 35-25 with the Fighting Irish over five years (1997-2001) and took the program to its first-ever BCS bowl, the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.
OFFENSE: New Mexico's offense has been simply awful for the last several years and it will probably take some time to fix the many problems that have plagued the Lobos. Quarterback B.R. Holbrook would certainly like to see changes for the better the first time he hits the field in September, but he could be long gone by the time Davie gets his schemes up and running.
In 11 games last season, Holbrook threw for just 135.5 ypg and had a mere 4 TDs, against 7 interceptions, so really almost anything this year would be seen as an improvement.
Bringing back a solid group of starters along the offensive line should be a bit of a comfort for Holbrook and Davie, but looking a bit deeper finds that the coach is concerned with depth in the trenches.
"We're going to have to count on some young guys playing," he said in early August. "(The line) is probably my biggest concern."
Although he appeared in just nine games in 2011, receiver Ty Kirk still tied for the team lead in catches with 47. However, unlike the departed Deon Long who turned his 47 grabs into 809 yards and 4 TDs, Kirk was limited to just 376 yards and never visited the end zone, something he intends to change this time around.
The solid offensive line should also help running back Demarcus Rogers (81 carries, 242 yards, 3 TDs) to also boost his numbers in order to give Holbrook some much-needed relief.
DEFENSE: Last season, New Mexico's opponents jumped all over the Lobos in the first 15 minutes of action, generating a whopping 160 points in the opening quarter, which is more than UNM scored the entire campaign. Certainly it can't get much worse, but don't expect to see the unit improve by leaps and bounds in the blink of an eye.
Losing Carmen Messina is a huge blow to the group, considering he ranked first in the MWC yet again with 11.8 tackles per game in 2011 and also paced the program in both tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (3). Messina was always there to clean up the messes that everyone else left behind, but even he could not do it all by himself.
Now a junior, Dallas Bollema will have the spotlight on him most of the time at the linebacker position to see how well he copes with the loss of Messina. The top returning tackler on the squad, Bollema had just 68 stops a year ago, although he also missed a couple of games.
Senior defensive end Joseph Harris will be asked to step up his efforts even after he led the team with 4 forced fumbles last season. Also on the end of the line will be Jake Carr who made 5 of his 24 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage, which means he is the top returning player in that category for the Lobos.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker James Aho, who saw his accuracy and level of involvement diminish over the years, is no longer around to handle the placekicking for the Lobos so now that job will fall to someone who hasn't been around the program much at all, outside of Justus Adams who is a former walk-on and was used as a kickoff specialist in 2011. Adams still needs to improve his strength and distance, but at this stage he is the best option the Lobos have until someone else steps up and proves themselves.
Ben Skaer will maintain his position as punter for New Mexico, a job that required quite a bit of effort last season since the offense was so poor. Skaer kicked away a total of 73 times, an average of more than six punts per game, averaging 39.7 yards per attempt. The good news was that, in all that activity, he didn't have a single kick blocked.
OUTLOOK: Even though Davie has come on to hopefully create a change in the climate in Albuquerque, it may take a few years to make that happen even though the coach is optimistic.
"The past does not have to dictate the future, but if you want different results, you had better change how you do things.
"That's what I've talked to our team about. We had better change everything that has been done from A to Z, if we don't want the same results. And that's what we've been trying to do."
This season the Lobos have a schedule that is unyielding, filled with 13 games that stretch from the first of September against Southern to November 24 at Colorado State without a single break in the action. Of the opponents on the hit list in 2012, UNM has a winning record against just four, one of those being rival New Mexico State, which has been taking care of the Lobos in recent years.
In the early going the schedule-makers didn't do the team any favors with road dates against Texas and Texas Tech in back-to-back outings, but at least later on in the campaign the hometown fans will enjoy seeing Boise State and Nevada come into University Stadium and readily handle UNM as the team steams towards another disappointing season.