ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Depending on the perspective, New Mexico's 4-9 season in 2012 can be viewed as another failure, or as a resounding success.
The win total was actually one more than the Lobos had compiled in the previous three seasons combined, so from that aspect there was quite a bit to like.
What's more, New Mexico was competitive in nearly every game, which could not have been said about the Lobos in the previous three years.
But the Lobos had a passing game that often could best be described as inept and suffered with a porous defense that often struggled to simply field 11 healthy players.
Last season, "we showed we can play with anybody," said senior defensive lineman Jacori Greer. "That's great. That's always going to be a positive deal. But we don't want to be close this year. We want to win those games. That's our emphasis."
Five things to watch as the Lobos continue to try to climb back to respectability under second-year coach Bob Davie:
1. DEFENSIVE STOPS: New Mexico's opponents averaged 30 points a game and gained 444 yards per outing. That was too much for a team reliant on its running game, no matter how strong it may be. "That's one of the biggest emphasis," Greer said. "We want to be the most improved defense. We think we can. We understand that we have to elevate our game for us to be successful. That's just point blank. We take it very personal. We take it to heart. We don't want to be the reason that we're not going to a bowl game."
2. AERIAL ATTACK: Behind a senior quarterback, B.J. Holbrook, who spent more time recovering from injuries than taking snaps and a freshman, Cole Gautsche, who had trouble getting the ball downfield, New Mexico managed just 895 yards through the air, less than 70 per game. What's more, the Lobos' 1-for-3 for 9 yards line against Texas State wasn't even their worst performance of the season. New Mexico failed to complete its only two pass attempts against Nevada. The Lobos completed just five TD passes all season while allowing 33. "We know we cannot survive like that this year," said offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse. "We've got to be more diverse. We can't be this predictable. So we've had to tweak our offense."
3. STOP THE BLEEDING: With a 35-23 win at Hawaii on Oct. 13, the Lobos were 4-3 and talk of a bowl game began to creep in. But New Mexico closed out the season with six consecutive losses. And in half of those losses, the Lobos had second-half leads that they lost. "All of us want to see tangible improvement," Davie said. "I would hope we win more than four games. It doesn't mean that we will. It doesn't mean that if we don't all of a sudden we've taken a step back. But we all want to see to see tangible improvement. Last year we came close in a lot of games. That doesn't necessarily mean we are going to come close again."
4. GROUND AND POUND: As impotent as the passing was, the rushing attack was sterling, finishing with more than 300 yards a game, fifth nationally. Kasey Carrier averaged 122.4 yards, 12th nationally. "He may not be the fastest, he obviously isn't the biggest but he's really a good fit in what we do," Davie said. "Our third-down passing game was Kasey Carrier running the ball. I bet there was not a back in the country that converted more third-down-and-four or more yards for first downs than Kasey Carrier. I mean it's third and seven and we're handing him the ball. It was unbelievable."
5. NUMBERS, NUMBERS, NUMBERS: The Lobos are just recovering from a probationary period that cost the squad 15 scholarships over a three-year period, while additional players left the program upon Davie's hiring, leaving it short in many areas. Numbers at all positions are much better, Davie said, creating competition and a hunger for playing time. Although depth was an issue across the board, it was particularly telling in the defensive backfield and under center. "We've got depth," defensive coordinator Jeff Mills said. "When you have depth, you have competition. When you have competition, it pushes each person to evaluate the things they need to work at because they're all hungry. They have a little bit of intensity that they're bringing it each day and I think that's making each guy better."
Predicted order of finish in Mountain West Conference: Sixth in Mountain Division.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/