Boise State closes its regular season with a home contest against New Mexico Saturday afternoon at Bronco Stadium. It will be the last home game for 21 seniors, including record-setting quarterback Kellen Moore. Might it be the last game for Head Coach Chris Petersen as well?
The Broncos have rebounded with a pair of wins against San Diego State and Wyoming since their disappointing loss to TCU. With slim BCS hopes remaining, the Broncos will need to be much more impressive in their final contest than they were in the previous one.
Wyoming stifled the Boise State offense for the first 28 minutes of the game but two late 2nd quarter touchdowns and a 3rd quarter explosion quickly turned the tide in favor of the Broncos. Wyoming didn’t have the firepower to keep up with Boise State and the Broncos’ opponent this week is even more offensively challenged.
The Lobos are in a precarious position, having fired Head Coach Mike Locksley after four games and replacing him with defensive coordinator George Barlow on an interim basis. To cloud things up further, they have already hired Barlow’s replacement, former Notre Dame Head Coach Bob Davie. The Lobos are limping toward their 3rd consecutive 1-11 finish. A visit to the school’s football home page reveals that they have already turned the page on this season and moved on, despite the presence of one final game on their schedule.
Barlow had a rude welcome to his first head coaching position as the Lobos lost to rival New Mexico State in his first game, followed by four more losses in which they were outscored by a combined total of 195-14. The Lobos finally broke through against fellow Mountain West Conference doormat UNLV, winning 21-14 on November 12th. They followed that up with a surprising 1st half against San Diego State that saw them jump out to an early 14-0 lead but they could not sustain the momentum and fell 31-14.
The Lobos do not have a long, glorious history of football success but they did play in five bowl games in a six season stretch spanning 2002-2007. They have since fallen on hard times, winning four games in 2008 and just one in each of the next three seasons. They will have to pull off the biggest upset of the 2011 college football season to notch a 2nd win this week.
New Mexico began the season with a two-quarterback rotation with starter Tarean Austin and reserve B.R. Holbrook. Through four games, however, the team made the switch and has gone primarily with Holbrook the rest of the way. Austin has seen scant playing time in recent weeks and none at all in three of the past four games.
Holbrook has completed 60% of his passes for 1,345 yards but has just four touchdown passes and only one in the past six games. He has thrown seven interceptions on the year as well. He should expect to face severe pressure from the Boise State defensive front as the Lobos do not present much of a threat to throw the ball.
When possible, Holbrook will be handing the ball off to true freshman running back Crusoe Gongbay who leads the team with 483 yards and five touchdowns. He shares time in the backfield with sophomore Demarcus Rogers and senior James Wright. Rogers has added three rushing touchdowns and the reserves have combined for 448 yards on the ground. Fullback Chris Biren is used almost exclusively in a blocking role as he has yet to carry the ball and has only two catches through 11 games.
The receivers are led by freshman Deon Long and junior Ty Kirk. Long leads the team with 713 yards and four touchdowns and Kirk has 46 receptions to lead the Lobos, despite missing the past three games with an injury. Kirk is expected to play this week but it is unclear what level of effectiveness he will have. Quintell Solomon may start in Kirk’s spot while Martize Barr and Donnie Duncan split time in the slot.
Tight end Lucas Reed is third on the team with 22 catches but has yet to find the end zone. His backup is sophomore Andrew Aho.
The offensive line features a pair of senior guards in Jon Washington and Mike Muniz. The tackles are imposing junior college transfer Korian Chambers, 6’6” and 322 lbs, and Dillon Farrell. LaMar Bratton is the center and there is not a lot of experience behind the quintet. True freshman tackle Larry Mazyck is another physical specimen who checks in at 6’7” and 332 lbs. The group has allowed 28 sacks this season while paving the way for just 3.5 yards per carry.
The offense is in the bottom 10 in the country in almost all statistical categories. They may, however, be better than the Lobos’ defense.
New Mexico is allowing 255 yards per game on the ground and another 231 through the air, the fourth-worst defense in the nation. The defensive line gets almost no pressure on the quarterback, compiling just nine sacks through 11 games.
The Lobos employ a 4-2-5 defense and their defensive line has a lot of experience with two seniors and two juniors. Ends Jaymar Latchison and Joseph Harris have combined for 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Defensive tackles Reggie Ellis and Brett Kennedy have yet to get to the quarterback this season. Reserves Jake Carr, Ugo Uzodinma and Jacori Greer have been nearly as productive as the starters, although the bar has not been set exceedingly high.
Senior linebacker Carmen Messina is the unquestioned leader of the defensive unit. Messina is one tackle away from setting the Mountain West career record. He leads the league with 11 tackles per game and has also contributed a team-high three sacks and one of only two Lobo interceptions this season. Messina is joined by Dallas Bollema who is third on the team in tackles. Spencer Merritt plays as the third linebacker in rushing situations.
New Mexico runs a three-safety system similar to Boise State’s with Zach Dancel as the free safety, Bubba Forrest as the Wolf and Dante Caro playing the Lobo position. Dancel has the only other interception for New Mexico and Forrest is second on the team in tackles. Caro has a pair of forced fumbles.
The cornerbacks are experienced with senior Anthony Hooks and junior Destry Berry. Junior DeShawn Mills is the third cornerback. None of the group have an interception but Berry leads the team with four pass breakups and Hooks is fourth on the team in tackles and the only non-defensive lineman to record a sack for the Lobos.
Kicker James Aho is just 6-12 on the season and has made all 18 of his extra point attempts. Sophomore Ben Skaer handles the punting duties and averages 40 yards per kick. Fewer than one in five of Skaer’s punts are fair caught. Justus Adams is the kickoff specialist but only four of his 32 kicks have resulted in touchbacks, meaning plenty of opportunities for the Boise State returners.
The New Mexico punt return game has been nearly non-existent with only eight opportunities for 12 yards for the entire season. The defense just does not force enough punts to allow the returners to have any impact on the game. The Lobos are very experienced returning kickoffs, however. Deon Long leads the group and has returned one kick for a touchdown this season.
The Lobos hope to execute a game plan to control the ball offensively and limit big plays defensively but stand virtually no chance of remaining competitive against the Broncos. Boise State just has too much firepower offensively and their defense has settled into a groove after shake-ups in the secondary to cover their injury woes at cornerback.
The Broncos should win this game in a blowout, sending Kellen Moore, Doug Martin and the impressive senior class off with a fond farewell.
Final Score Prediction: Boise State 56, New Mexico 6