The New Mexico football team picked up a big win heading into its bye week over Air Force, but the uphill climb to have a chance at a second-straight division title is just beginning.
New Mexico (3-2, 1-1 MW) defeated Air Force 56-38 on Sept. 29 to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole in conference play and have settled into the middle of the pack in the Mountain Division standings.
And the team could potentially pick up more ground if it can find a way to win on the road Saturday against Fresno State (3-2, 2-0 MW). Boise State and Wyoming, both of which are ahead of UNM in the division, are playing on the road as underdogs.
The last time the Lobos traveled to square off against the Bulldogs in 2013 though, things got ugly. UNM head coach Bob Davie described the game, a 69-28 Fresno State blowout, as “brutal,” and he said he hopes this matchup will go a lot better.
UNM fared better in the most recent matchup between the schools, but still suffered a 35-24 loss at home during the 2014 season.
Fresno State has been tough to handle, as the team holds a 6-1 advantage over the Lobos on its home turf and an 11-4 overall record in the all-time series, but UNM is a much different team than it was in 2013, which was just Davie’s second season at the helm.
The Lobos only won three games in 2013 but have won 10 of their last 13 dating back to last season. And if UNM can scrap out a win, it would be on a three-game winning streak and improve to 2-1 in conference play.
The Bulldogs have also undergone changes. Jordan Peterson, a safeties coach for UNM, was on the Fresno State staff in 2013, but any previous knowledge may be rendered moot, since head coach Jeff Tedford is in his first year at the position for the Bulldogs.
A new coach usually means a new scheme and, since the last meeting was nearly four years ago, there is almost an entirely different roster as well.
Still, Davie said there are some parallels between the two teams as well. Both teams won the season opener and then suffered two losses before rebounding to win the next two.
Though both teams are 3-2 and enter Saturday’s matchup on a win streak, one major difference is that Fresno State lost to AP No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Washington, while New Mexico faltered against New Mexico State and a Boise State team that appears to be having a down year.
New Mexico will likely need to continue doing the things that propelled the team to the win over Air Force last week to increase its chances of winning at Fresno State.
Davie said the holes the offensive line created to get the running game back on track were a big part of the win, but ball protection was also a major factor in the last game. New Mexico did not commit a turnover in the game and was able to force two fumbles which helped the Lobos build the lead.
In addition to those keys to victory, Davie said special teams could play a role on Saturday as well. He said he was impressed with Fresno State’s special teams’ play.
New Mexico’s 363 rushing yard performance against Air Force resulted in the Lobos vaulting all the way up to the No. 12 rushing team in the nation at 228 yards per game, but Fresno State’s No. 19 run defense is also stout — so something has to give.
But the Lobos have the depth at wide receiver to make an impact in the passing game as well, with Delane Hart-Johnson as a viable downfield threat. Davie acknowledged that this year’s roster probably has the best collection he’s had to play against Fresno State.
He also said there is a good chance that more than one quarterback could see action on the field for the Lobos against Fresno State. Lamar Jordan will be the projected starter, but backups Tevaka Tuioti and Coltin Gerhart could also be in the mix.
The game, which will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet, is scheduled for an 8 p.m. kickoff time on Saturday, Oct. 13 and can also be heard on the Lobo Radio Network.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.