By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Coming in after a successful head coach like Rocky Long, Mike Locksley had his work cut out for him as he was named the 29th head coach for the New Mexico Lobos. Unfortunately for Locksley, there was little
to celebrate in his first year in Albuquerque as the team posted just a single
win, a 29-27 victory over Colorado State in the second-to-last game of the
campaign. As if losing week after week were not enough for the new leader,
suffering weak offensive efforts against the likes of Texas A&M, Tulsa, Air
Force and New Mexico State, a quartet of opponents which surrendered a
combined 46 points to the Lobos, Locksley soon found himself in hot water off
the field as well. In late September, receivers coach J.B. Gerald was
reportedly caught in a heated argument with Locksley and the result of some
pushing and shoving left Gerald with a split lip. While an investigation
couldn't corroborate Gerald's version of events, Locksley was still suspended
for 10 days and was left wondering about his job security since his actions
violated policies on campus violence. In the end Locksley was back at the
helm, but only to watch helplessly as the program stumbled out to an 0-10
record and was one of the weakest teams in all of college football.
While there was some small reason to smile, as kicker James Aho knocked
through a 27-yard field goals with 12 seconds left to play in the two-point
win over the Rams, the celebration was short-lived because just seven days
later the Lobos were dealt an embarrassing 51-10 loss at the hands of league
champion TCU on the road in Fort Worth. After finishing in seventh place in
the MWC in 2008, UNM dropped one more spot to eighth with a league mark of 1-7
and going 1-11 overall. New Mexico was the only MWC program not to win a
single game on the road, ranked last in the league and 113th in the nation in
scoring defense with 35.9 ppg allowed.
OFFENSE: In terms of the offense that we can expect to see out of the Lobos in
2010, coach Locksley is leaning towards the running attack. "Our identity is
always going to be focused on what our strengths are and that changes from
year to year, from team to team. Right now we really feel good about our
running back situation which means that we've got some talent there. I think a
good running game is an inexperienced quarterback's best friend."
The running backs of which Locksley is referring begin with Demond Dennis and
Kasey Carrier, even though both are just sophomores. Dennis led the team in
carries a year ago with 78 for 454 yards, accounting for three of the unit's
eight rushing TDs. Carrier averaged just under four and a half yards per
carry, but not one of his 61 attempts met with touchdown success. Seeing as
how Carrier appeared in just six games in 2009, the outlook for him is much
brighter for the coming year. James Wright is again expected to contribute
significant yards, but considering the team placed eighth in the league and
110th in the country with a mere 100.2 ypg on the ground, any contribution
will seem significant.
As for the quarterback job, that will fall to either B.R. Holbrook or Brad
Gruner, the former just a sophomore and the latter a junior. Holbrook saw
limited action a year ago as Donovan Porterie handled much of the passing
duties, but expect Gruner to get his shot at the position as well.
Operating with a three receiver set, Chris Hernandez and Bryant Williams are
seniors who have the majority of the experience, but Ty Kirk is the one who
made the biggest contribution as a freshman last year with his team-leading 36
catches for 427 yards in 10 games.
DEFENSE: "There was a lot of damage on the body," linebacker Carmen Messina
admits after all the action he was involved in as the nation's leading tackler
a year ago. "We've got a good coaching staff, good training room, they'll
definitely help me to stay healthy throughout the season. You're definitely
going to take some bruises and bumps throughout the season, that's just a part
of football, that's what it is. I'm not expected to make the same amount of
statistics I did this past season because the offense will be on the field
scoring every now and then and the defensive line (will be) making stops in
Clearly Messina is hoping that his offense will cut him some breaks this
season and the rest of the defense in front of him will do a better job, but
in reality he's going to be asked to do it all against the Lobos. The nation's
top tackler from last year with an astounding 162 stops, Messina is one of
only two All-MWC First Team defenders back for 2010 so the eyes of Lobo nation
will again be upon him.
Certainly, being ranked as far down as they were on defense last year,
permitting an unsightly 418.7 ypg, the only way to go is up this time around
even though the top four tacklers behind Messina last year are not coming
Defensive end Johnathan Rainey, after logging team highs with 15.5 tackles for
loss and 9.5 sacks in 2009, will be another one to watch on this side of the
ball, as will Jaymar Latchison who logged 8.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks of his own,
but it remains to be seen how well the players in between those two ends will
perform on the defensive line.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Because the New Mexico offense was so inept a season ago,
kicker James Aho was put on the spot quite often. He made good on just 61.9
percent of his field goal attempts, mainly because he missed on five of his
nine chances between 40-49 yards. It also didn't help that he had two kicks
blocked. Aho could have similar results this season if the UNM offense doesn't
move the ball. Even though he is just a freshman, Ben Skaer might be the one
handling the punting duties for the squad. Bryant Williams, who appeared in 11
games as a receiver last year and caught 26 balls, figures to be the kick
returner after averaging 21.7 yards on his three chances a year ago.
OUTLOOK: "The 2010 Lobo football program is embarking on the second year of a
four-to-five year process," coach Locksley calls the upcoming campaign for his
group. "Having done this at my last three stops, I see the tell-tale signs of
a program that's right on track, minus a few more wins in year one."
Clearly the coach is making it known that expecting a huge turnaround by UNM
this year would be rather foolish and is keeping the bar somewhat low in order
to be pleased with whatever positives might come out of the upcoming season.
The Lobos are slated to hit the road against Oregon for the first time ever in
the season opener, so right there the team is setting itself up for a huge
fall. Hosting Texas Tech and UTEP could lead to some lopsided and ugly final
tallies, but the annual battle with New Mexico State in Las Cruces is a game
in which history gets thrown out the window and everything is based on
emotion, giving the Lobos at least a fighting chance in 2010. By no means did
the schedule-makers cut UNM any slack by finishing off the campaign with trips
to Air Force and BYU and a home meeting versus TCU, but the Lobos will simply
have to take their lumps as they rebuild.