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2010 Oregon Football Preview :: New Mexico Lobos

Part one in a series on Oregon's 2010 season opponents


12:30 PM PST :: September 4, 2010 :: Autzen Stadium

Opponent New Mexico
Nickname Lobos
Location Albuquerque, NM
Enrollment 27,304
Head Coach Mike Locksley (1-11)
Stadium University Stadium (39,224) : natural grass
2009 Record 1-11, (1-7 Mountain West)
Starters Returning 5 Offense : 6 Defense
Base Offense No-huddle Spread
Base Defense 4-3
Blogs The Lobo Lair, Mountain West Connection
Newspapers Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico Daily Lobo

Top Returners

Category Player
Rushing Desmond Dennis :: 78 Rushes : 427 Yards : 3 TD
Passing B.R. Holbrook :: 19/34 : 170 Yards : 1 TD : 2 INT
Receiving Ty Kirk :: 35 Receptions : 418 Yards : 2TD
Tackles Carmen Messina :: 81 Solo : 82 Assist : 163 Total
Sacks Jonathan Rainey :: 9 Solo : 1 Assit : 9.5 Total : 93 Yards
Interceptions Nathan Enriquez :: 2 INT : 0 Yards : 0 TD

This is a series that looked a whole lot better when Oregon scheduled it. Under previous head coach Rocky Long, New Mexico achieved unparalled success. They were the only real team in the Mountain West outside of the big three, and Long had them in bowl games in five of his final seven seasons, a great accomplishment for a team that, before he got there, hadn't been to a bowl since 1961. However, his inability to break into the top three in the conference was the reason he cited when he resigned after the '08 season, and the school brought in Mike Locksley, a longtime Ron Zook assistant who, like the Zooker, is known for being a flashy recruiter but has questionable pedigree on the actual coaching part of the game.

Locksley went for a complete overhaul of the system. He ditched Long's more traditional system in favor of a pass heavy spread. Keep that in mind when looking an New Mexico's horrid season last year, as we have seen at Michigan how hard it is to switch to that system without the players. He also switched the defense, from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3. As a result, both the offense and defense were among the worst in the nation, both on a total and per play basis. Being the second year in the system, the team should be better almost by default. However, they'll also likely be starting freshmen at both center and quarterback, who will have the privilege of getting their introduction to college football at Autzen. While it wasn't quite scheduled this way, its pretty much the complete opposite of last year's opener.

2009 Offensive Statistics

Statistic New Mexico Oregon
Pass Offense 215.08 (63) 180.31 (98)
Rush Offense 100.25 (110) 231.69 (6)
Total Offense 315.33 (103) 412.00 (33)
Scorng Offense 16.33 (113) 36.08 (8)
Pass Efficiency 105.87 (112) 128.03 (59)
Sacks Allowed 3.42 (115) 1.00 (10)
3rd Down Conversion % 30.11 (117) 35.12 (95)
Yards/Play 4.3 (110) 6.0 (24)
Points/Play 0.225 (114) 0.522 (6)

Let me sum it up for you this way: one of the worst offensive teams in the country last year is going to roll into Autzen with freshmen at both quarterback and center, try to air the ball out with no huddle, probably not be very successful in doing so, and give Chip Kelly more possession to work with. In all actuality, RS sophomore BR Holbrook, who saw limited action in five games as a freshman last season, was on top of the depth chart after spring ball. However, it is speculated that Locksley will want one of "his" guys to have the keys to the offense going forward, and two candidates emerge in freshmen Darain "Stump" Godfrey and true frosh Tarean Austin, a 3 star recruit from Florida who was rated the #20 dual threat quarterback recruit in the nation last year. Whether Holbrook, Godfrey, or Austin wins that competition, the net result will be the same--he'll be entering Autzen for the first real playing time of his college career. Just by having guys who compliment the system, the numbers should be better almost by default this season, but it will take some time for that to bear out. Its not going to be evident by the first game of the year.

Unfortunately for the Lobos, it doesn't appear that the offensive line will be much help. That they only return two starters may not be the worst thing in the world, as they averaged only 3.3 yards per rush and gave up an embarrassingly bad 3.42 sacks per game, despite running most plays out of the shotgun. Oh, and one of those losses is the MWC all first team center, who will likely be replaced by a redshirt freshman. Like the freshman quarterbacks, center Dillon Farrell is thought of highly, but he still a freshman making his first start at Autzen. Some experienced career backups will fill out the right side of the line, while the left side returns. This group will almost certainly be better in the second year of the new system, but they have a long way to go to be considered respectable. I have a good feeling that New Mexico's quarterback will get to know Kenny Rowe very, very well.

New Mexico loses two of their three starting wideouts, but return four guys who caught 20 or more balls last season, including sophomore Ty Kirk, who was the best freshman receiver in the conference last season with 36 catches and two scores. He's probably the most potent receiver they have, but they may spread it around to six or seven different guys over the course of the game, including the tight end, who caught 17 passes last year. The running back situation is actually in decent shape, as UNM returns their top four rushers from last season, with Desmond Dennis being the biggest weapon at 5.5 yards/carry, and James Wright, who was the starter two seasons ago under Long before landing in Locksley's doghouse, though ultimately regaining the job late in the year. That said, none of these guys had more than 78 attempts or 454 yards last season. I would expect to see them try and run the ball a bit early against Oregon and try to take some of the pressure off their new QB, but they'll likely find themselves behind early and will have to make a decision on whether to start airing it out, which is more consistent with their offensive philosophy anyways.

Oregon by no means has a great defensive line, but they should be able to push this weaker offensive line around a bit, getting pressure on the young QB and forcing him to make bad decisions. Their receivers are decent, but Oregon's secondary has played against much better, not to mention plays against a much better spread every week in practice. New Mexico will make some plays, but I have doubts that they can do so with any consistency. I expect that the Ducks' will hold them to a very low scoring first half, though the final score may not reflect that if the Lobos can put up a couple of scores in garbage time. It does seem likely that New Mexico's style of no huddle will allow Oregon more time with the ball then we would typically see from a more orthodox opponent.

2009 Defensive Statistics

Statistic New Mexico Oregon
Pass Defense 253.67 (105) 207.62 (44)
Rush Defense 165.00 (83) 128.69 (42)
Total Defense 418.67 (100) 336.31 (35)
Scoring Defense 35.92 (113) 23.77 (51)
Pass Efficiency Defense 155.59 (112) 112.30 (25)
Tackles for Loss 6.08 (45) 6.31 (40)
Opponent 3rd Down % 47.98 (115) 37.91 (51)
Turnover Margin -0.50 (97) +0.15 (51)
Yards/Play Allowed 5.6 (75) 4.4 (12)
Points/Play Allowed 0.481 (105) 0.311 (28)

If New Mexico's offense was epically bad last season, the defense wasn't far behind. With a no huddle offense, your defense is on the field a lot, your total stats can be misleading as you play far more plays than anyone else. You see this in Oregon's defensive numbers, where the total stats are pretty pedestrian and in the middle of the pack. Then you look at the Ducks' fantastic per play numbers and realize that it was the best defense in the conference, they just played a whole hell of a lot more than anybody else. Well, the rate stats don't vouch for the Lobo defense. Giving up almost six yards and half a point per play, its a pretty terrible unit as well.

That said, a lot of their defensive troubles can be attributed to an awful back seven. Their defensive line was pretty good last year, as they allowed only 3.9 yards/rush (46th in the nation) and had 23 sacks from this unit. Three of the front four return, including end Jonathan Rainey. As only a sophomore last season, Rainey was second team all-MWC and had a cool 9.5 sacks. They also welcome two highy regarded Illinois transfers, Reggie Ellis and Ugo Uzodinma, in addition to 4* freshman from Florida Calvin Smith. This was a pretty good D-Line last year, and are better and deeper this year. Its the one unit on the team that could give Oregon problems. Fortunately, the Ducks have one of the best offensive lines in the nation to take care of it. But there will be times this game where the Oregon QB does face some pressure, and may see the turf.

They also return 1st team all-MWC middle linebacker Carmen Messina, who led all of college football in tackles with a whopping 162. However, they lost both of their outside guys. Outside of Messina, this unit is perilously thin on experience, as their depth chart is loaded with guys who have less than ten career tackles. Being so bad last year, this is again a unit that should be better almost by default, but that won't manifest itself in game one. The secondary was really torched last year, as their 253 passing yards/game given up attests to. They return both CBs, who should be better, but replace both their safeties, again with very little experience. While I would expect that Oregon will run the majority of this game, look for the Ducks to try and exploit this secondary early, further loosening up that defense and giving the running backs even more room.

2009 Special Teams Statistics

Statistic New Mexico Oregon
Kick Returns 19.17 (108) 24.91 (10)
Punt Returns 3.58 (115) 12.00 (27)
Kickoff Returns Against 23.55 (98) 20.85 (42)
Punt Returns Against 9.47 (66) 6.83 (36)

As you can see, New Mexico neither returns nor defends kicks very well, which is not surprising given the lack of depth on the roster. Oregon should have the decided advantage in the return game. New Mexico has a new punter this season, freshman Ben Skaer, who figures to see a lot of action. Kicker James Aho returns for the Lobos. He had a fantastic freshman season two years ago, but regressed severely last year and is looking to regain his form. His career long is 48, but his comfortable range is inside of 42. For Oregon, regardless of who wins the kicking competition, Alejandro Maldonado will be kicking this game as Rob Beard serves his suspension. While we don't know how Maldonado will do, if this game comes down his leg, his performance is the least of our concerns.

Final Analysis

New Mexico will be a much more challenging opponent when we visit Albuquerque in 2012. That said, this is a team in transition right now, and a pretty bad one at that. I'll bluntly say that it would take a complete catastrophe for Oregon to lose this game. I think the Lobos will feel good if they can keep it relatively close for two or three quarters and force Oregon to play their starters for most of the game. If you're Oregon, you want a scenario where the drama is over by halftime, and you're able to play the backups a lot in the second half, keeping everyone healthy and having everyone firing on all cylinders for the Tennessee game. New Mexico strength, the defensive line, is opposed by arguably our biggest strength, and their offensive style is one that should give our offense a ton of chances to put the ball in the end zone.