Having already matched their entire win total from the previous two seasons combined, the New Mexico Lobos shoot for an unprecedented third victory this weekend when they host the 24th-ranked Boise State Broncos in Mountain West Conference action in Albuquerque.
Not since 2008 had the Lobos won more than a single game in a season, but the team managed to change all that last Saturday when it took out in-state rival New Mexico State in Las Cruces by a score of 27-14. The victory not only gave UNM a split through the first four games of the season, it also served to snap the nation's longest road losing streak at 24 games.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011 the Lobos finished a mere 1-11, so already the team has gotten beyond that single win under the direction of new head coach Bob Davie, Now the goal is to post back-to-back victories for the first time since the middle of 2008 when the school posted a 35-24 decision over NMSU in late September and followed that up with a 24-0 blanking of Wyoming.
As for the Broncos, the winningest team in the FBS since the start of the 2002 campaign with 120 victories, they were in jeopardy of losing for just the third time at home in the last 59 decisions last week when the BYU Cougars took Boise State down to the wire during an anemic 7-6 final. The only points for the Broncos in the decision came on an interception return of 36 yards by Mike Atkinson, marking the first time that BSU has failed to register an offensive touchdown at home since joining the ranks of the FBS back in 1996.
"It's the weirdest feeling ever. I'm so ecstatic for that one side, and we definitely have to go back to the drawing board on the other side," said Boise State head coach Chris Petersen after his team's enigmatic performance. "But that's how it goes sometimes - we talk about it all the time. We're a family. There may be a day where special teams is struggling, and the offense was tonight. Whatever it is, the other side has got to get it done. And they did that."
As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Broncos have won all three previous encounters, including a 45-0 shutout last season.
Boise State's offense showed that the transition from Kellen Moore to someone else at quarterback was far from an easy one as the Broncos barely slipped by BYU. Joe Southwick felt the pressure all night long as he completed 15-of-25 passes for just 145 yards, with coach Petersen visibly disgusted with the signal-caller's game management.
D.J. Harper was able to move the ball for the hosts with his 112 yards on 31 carries, but by no means was it easy at all. In fact, there was one point in the third quarter when the Broncos recovered a fumble at the one-yard line of BYU but were stuffed on their four attempts to get into the end zone. Rarely has BSU been as frustrated on offense as it was versus the Cougars.
Thankfully, the BSU defense made sure to ramp up the intensity for the home team as they forced turnovers on five straight possessions in order to keep the Cougars from taking advantage of the ineptitude of the Boise State offense.
"We always talk about getting interceptions - we're going to take it to the house no matter what," Atkinson set of his game-winning play. "That guy came up right up beside me and almost got me at the side, but I wasn't going down for (anything)."
Thanks to plays like the one Atkinson made, the Broncos rank second in the conference and 13th nationally in turnover margin with a plus-1.67 per game, but at some point the offense is going to have to get into gear. To show just how different Southwick and this group is from last year's squad, after four games in 2012 this offense is generating just 355.3 ypg which is 94th in the country. Last season at this time (three games), the Broncos were 14th in the nation with 486.0 ypg.
As for the Lobos last weekend, the squad controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes, generating close to 400 yards of offense in order to put themselves over the top in the annual meeting with New Mexico State. Jhurell Pressley turned 15 carries into 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the visitors, while Kasey Carrier had his 21 rushing attempts result in a game-high 129 yards and a score as well.
Quarterback B.R. Holbrook converted 11-of-18 passes for just 92 yards, but more importantly, he didn't make any mistakes throwing the ball that could have cost his team a victory.
"First and foremost, this is what kind of team we have to be," coach Davie said of the effort. "There's not a great amount of room for error. This is what we have to be. We rushed the ball for 300 yards. They rushed the ball for 70 ... Time of possession, whether it's the first half against Texas, whether it's against Southern or New Mexico State, we have to control time of possession."
Turnovers have certainly been a key factor in the Lobos evening their record at 2-2, the team placing third in the conference and 24th in the country this week with a plus-1.0 in turnover margin. However, gaining possession of the ball has to work hand-in-hand with an offense that is capable of moving it down the field consistently and the Lobos are still trying to prove that they have that ability.
Unfortunately, New Mexico ranks last in the FBS in passing efficiency with a rating of 91.92 and as far as yardage through the air is concerned, the Lobos are 119th in the country with a mere 60.0 ypg. The rushing offense has much better numbers on paper, averaging 234.8 ypg to place 21st in the nation, but don't lose sight of the fact that 649 of their 939 rushing yards have come against NMSU and Southern, accounting for eight of their nine rushing TDs in those two outings as well.