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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Two losing streaks on the line

092112_footballweb
By Juan Labreche / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Senior Tyler Johnson stands on top of a car in the tailgate parking lot during the Lobo football home opener against Southern on Sept. 1. The Lobos head down to Las Cruces to face the Aggies this Saturday and will attempt to beat them for the first time since 2008.

sports@dailylobo.com

In layman’s terms, it’s just a state-rival football game between the biggest colleges in New Mexico.

But it’s more than just the 104th incarnation of the Rio Grande Rivalry — it’s a chance for the Lobos to get back on their feet after two consecutive blowout losses at Texas, 45-0, and at Texas Tech University, 49-14. And it’s the same for the Aggies, who lost at Ohio University 51-24 and at UTEP 41-28.

First-year UNM head coach Bob Davie sees the similarities between the teams, as both stand 1-2 on the season.

“We are two similar teams: they won their first game at home and we won our first game at home; we went on the road for two weeks and they went on the road for two weeks,” Davie said. “It’s a big game for a lot of reasons. This is a big game.”

UNM has lost three years in a row to the Aggies. Last year’s contest was a one-sided affair that favored NMSU 42-28. If the Aggies down the Lobos in Las Cruces, they will tie the longest winning streak NMSU has ever had in the series, which spanned four years from 1965-68.

Davie said the game is a pivotal point in the rivalry, as UNM tries to return to its winning ways against the Aggies.

“In a lot of ways it’s a fresh start right now, it’s trying to put a team on the field that can make this rivalry what it should be,” he said. “We’ve got to put a team out there that can play and we have to coach them well enough to make it the kind of rivalry it’s been in the past. It’s a challenge in a lot of ways, but I love this challenge.”

Redshirt freshman Brandon Branch said the Lobos want to send out the seniors, who have never beaten NMSU, on a high note.

“We definitely want to end that streak badly,” he said. “Not as far as the three wins, but because of the rivalry, and we’re definitely trying to get a W at State.”

The Lobos’ odds aren’t in their favor, with a 24-game losing streak on the road, which is the longest such streak in the country. However, UNM’s last road victory came at Aggie Memorial Stadium on Sept. 27, 2008, when the Lobos came back from a 14-0 deficit to defeat NMSU 35-24.

If UNM plans on pulling a critical road win, it will have to jumpstart an offense that barely managed a whimper against Texas Tech with 127 yards of total offense.

Davie said myriad things have to happen in order for the option offense to get back in gear.

“The first thing is that our offense has to be on the field more, and that’s a combination of a lot of things to make that happen,” he said. “The second thing is that our quarterbacks in the option game, in particular our footwork, has to be much better, much better — both B.R. (Holbrook) and Cole (Gautsche). We do need to get some explosive plays and I think we have a couple guys.”

One of those highlight-reel players might be sophomore running back Chase Clayton, who leads the nation in kick-off return average with 43.3 yards per return and has two 98-yard kickoff return touchdowns.

“This week they’ve been really putting me into the offense,” Clayton said. “A lot of kinds of option plays, or plays getting me to the outside to show my speed.”

The defensive side of the ball didn’t fare much better against the Red Raiders by allowing 702 total yards of offense. The Lobos also lost senior safety Matt Raymer and senior cornerbacks Freddy Young and Destry Berry to injuries against Texas Tech, and all three players are out versus NMSU.

Branch, who was second in tackles against Texas Tech with five, said the defense has to step up to compensate for the injured players.

“We made calls simpler, made it easier for the secondary to get into their coverages and whatnot,” Branch said.