ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Out of the frying pan …
In their last game, a 45-10 loss to Utah State, the New Mexico Lobos were bullied on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Afterward, UNM coach Bob Davie said his team was unable to match Utah State’s physicality.
… And into Qualcomm Stadium. Saturday in San Diego, the Lobos will face a physical San Diego State team that last week did everything but beat 16th-ranked Fresno State.
The Aztecs (3-4 overall, 2-1 in Mountain West Conference play) held the high-powered Bulldogs offense to a single touchdown in the first half and to some 200 yards less than their average total offense. San Diego State lost in overtime, 35-28, after its 37-yard field goal attempt on the final play of regulation time was blocked.
Is San Diego State as physical as Utah State? The Lobos (2-5, 0-3) probably won’t know that until they line up against the Aztecs Saturday evening. But, until further notice, they should assume so.
“They’re in that same ballpark,” Davie said. “… They’re gonna line up and come at you, there’s no question about that.”
And if the Lobos couldn’t match Utah State physically, how are they going to match San Diego State?
It’s a challenge, UNM’s men in the middle say, that they’re eager to meet.
True freshman Nik D’Avanzo, who shares time at defensive nose tackle with senior Jacori Greer, noted that football is a game of precision and execution as much as brute force.
If the Lobos can eliminate mistakes they made against Utah State, D’Avanzo said, he believes they can play in the trenches with San Diego State – or any team remaining on UNM’s schedule.
“We made some mistakes,” he said of the Utah State game, “but each game you get good out of it, too. You learn from your mistakes, and hopefully those mistakes don’t show up again.”
Senior center Dillon Farrell said much the same.
“Mistake-free, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I’m confident that we can win if we really play as hard as we can and everybody’s clicking and on the same page.”
Farrell said he believes the Utah State game, far from weakening the Lobos, has toughened them.
“They’re a physical defense,” he said of San Diego State. “What’s kind of great about us playing Utah State before we play San Diego State is that (Utah State was) physical, brought a lot of pressure on us, and I think that’s prepared us even more for San Diego State.”
ROCKY REVISITED: Tough losses? Rocky Long had a few during his 11 years as head coach at UNM.
Oct. 7, 2000: Colorado State 17, New Mexico 14. A hotly disputed pass-interference call in Fort Collins sets up the Rams’ winning touchdown.
Sept. 22, 2001: Baylor 16, New Mexico 13, overtime. Long chooses to go for a fourth and 2 from the Baylor 3-yard line in OT rather than kick a field goal. The Lobos don’t make it. The Bears then kick the game-winner.
Oct. 19, 2002: Utah State 45, New Mexico 44, overtime. The normally reliable Kenny Byrd misses a point-after, giving the Aggies the victory.
Thus, it was no surprise that Long – now the third-year head coach at San Diego State – reacted to his latest tough loss with the stoicism of the veteran he is.
“Oh, I’ve been around losses as tough as that one, sure,” Long said afterward. “I’m an old man, I’ve been around a lot of ‘em.”
Davie, who is 59 – Long is 63 – has had his share of tough losses. Asked how the Aztecs might react on Saturday to the Fresno State disappointment, he said, “I’ve got enough worrying about one team without worrying about (that). That’s the same every week.
“Rocky’s gonna tell you the same thing. You just try to get your (own) team prepared the best you can.”
GAUTSCHE’S A GO: Davie said quarterback Cole Gautsche, who played sparingly against Utah State after suffering a knee injury against Wyoming, is ready to go against San Diego State.