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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lobos’ turnaround tied to stellar rushing offense

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By Adria Malcolm / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook sprints past the Texas State defense on Saturday at University Stadium. Holbrook completed one of three passes for 9 yards, but the Lobos rushed for 361 yards as a team in a 35-14 win over the Bobcats.

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Given the mismatches in the team’s first three weeks, with an easy win over a subpar FCS team in Week 1 and back-to-back blowout losses against tough Texas programs, it was difficult for most to get a realistic impression of the UNM football team.

Now that the Lobos have faced three teams that are on their competitive level, we have a firmer grasp of the team that first-year head coach Bob Davie brings to the field: much improved, but with a one-dimensional offense.

Davie has as many wins after six games as his predecessors had in three years. While a 3-3 record isn’t an impressive mark for most schools, it’s a huge step forward for a program once heralded as one of the worst in the country.

UNM has one of the best rushing attacks in the nation. Who would have said that at any point in the last three years?

Heading into Saturday’s game with Texas State, the Lobos were rated No. 10 in rushing offense. UNM has averaged 253.8 yards per game in its first five outings, amassing 1,269 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Those numbers only got better on Saturday.

UNM ran all over Texas State from the get-go, registering its fourth 300-yard game of 2012. The Lobos haven’t had four 300-yard rushing games since 1982. They had 209 yards in the first half alone, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Most of those yards came on rushes up the middle, not the option.

Kasey Carrier had his two best games in the last three weeks.

Following a career-best performance against New Mexico State on Sept. 22, the junior running back upped the ante. He bested his career highs in rush attempts (23), yardage (191) and touchdowns (four).

His four-touchdown achievement was UNM’s first since Oct. 18, 2008, when Rodney Ferguson scored four in a 70-7 rout of SDSU.

Carrier’s performance earned him recognition by the website College Sports Madness, which named him its Madness Conference Player of the Week for offense in the Mountain West.

“We’re going to do what we do because that’s what our coaches emphasize,” Carrier said, referring to the running attack.

Freshman quarterback Cole Gautsche also showed flashes of what makes him a threat. He ran for 79 yards on seven carries, with an average of 11.3 yards per carry. Most of his yards came on a 53-yard run in the fourth quarter with the game firmly in hand. When Gautsche made his option pitches, they looked crisp and on-target.

One thing has become evident with UNM running the ball so well: the Lobos don’t pass often.

Senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook, who has a stronger arm and better mechanics than the young Gautsche, hasn’t thrown much.

Through six games, he has completed 36 of his 60 attempts for 277 yards and one touchdown. A lot of quarterbacks throw for that many yards in a single game.

UNM didn’t use Holbrook’s arm much against Texas State, either.
Holbrook attempted three passes, all in the first quarter, and was sacked once. Holbrook targeted senior wide receiver Lamaar Thomas twice and freshman receiver Carlos Wiggins once. Thomas made the only catch for 9 yards.

That is one of the lowest passing totals for UNM. The previous low came in 2002, when safety Justin Millea, who started in place of quarterback Casey Kelly, completed two of his eight attempts for 20 yards.

After the three attempts, the Lobos stuck strictly with the ground game, running the ball on 53 consecutive plays. Talk about a one-dimensional offense.

“We don’t throw the ball much,” Davie said. “We’ve thrown four passes in a game and a half.”

Except against Texas and Texas Tech, UNM’s one-dimensionality hasn’t hurt much. The Lobos won two of their last three games and nearly upset No. 24 Boise State. Against the Broncos, UNM rallied from 25 points at halftime and lost by three points, and that comeback came via a strong run game, not through the air.

In a down-year for the MWC with three teams holding winning records (Nevada, Fresno State and Boise State), it will be interesting to see if anybody in the conference can figure out the UNM ground game, and how the Lobos will respond if and when that happens.