LARAMIE, Wyo. – The numbers are as chilling as the rarefied Wyoming air is expected to be this afternoon at War Memorial Stadium.
They strongly suggest the New Mexico Lobos have as much chance of beating the Wyoming Cowboys in football as they do of scaling Devil’s Tower in their cleats.
The Lobos, though, coming off their first victory and their best performance of the season, aren’t buying it.
“Everybody’s just ready to get another win,” said sophomore running back Demarcus Rogers, who scored the decisive touchdown in UNM’s 21-14 victory over UNLV last Saturday. “We liked how the feeling was after the victory last week, so we want to feel like that again.”
The numbers say it’s likely the Lobos will feel little but the Laramie cold and the Cowboys’ wrath, the latter stemming from UNM’s upset victory last year in Albuquerque.
A Lobo victory would be a far greater upset this time.
Here are the numbers:
Wyoming, the surprise team of the Mountain West Conference, is 6-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play.
The Lobos are 1-9, 1-4.
Against common opponents, UNLV, San Diego State, TCU and Air Force, Wyoming is 3-1. The Lobos are 1-3.
Against those same opponents, the Cowboys are a plus-27 in scoring margin.
The Lobos? The UNLV win didn’t do a lot for this number: a minus-132.
All the above is why Cowboys are favored by somewhere between 24 and 26 points.
But the Lobos believe they’re not the same team that lost to TCU by 69, to Air Force by 49 and to San Diego State by 28.
“I really felt we grew up in the locker room a little bit (against UNLV),” said quarterback B.R. Holbrook. “No personal-foul penalties, no false-start penalties.
“I think it was really good for us to see how good it feels to play like that.”
There’s that feeling again. Holbrook, like Rogers, thinks the Lobos could experience it again today.
“They’re gonna play a very solid zone,” Holbrook said of the Wyoming defense. “They’re very well-coached, they know their assignments.
“We’re gonna have to bring our ‘A’ game, just like we did last week, and not start drives first-and-15, first-and-20, just doing stupid things like that. If we can get ahead of the chain and just keep rolling, I think we’ll be all right.”
On offense, Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith has had a remarkable true-freshman season: 20 touchdowns running or passing, just five interceptions.
“He’s a kid who’s still learning the craft at his position,” said Lobos interim head coach George Barlow, “but he’s such a competitor and a good enough athlete that he’s still making enough plays to win games.”
While the Wyoming offense has committed few turnovers, the Cowboys’ defense has fed off them.
More numbers: The Cowboys rank second nationally in turnover margin at plus-14 for nine games. The Lobos, at minus-eight for 10 contests, are tied for 107th.
Again, UNM chooses to focus on the recent past.
With the UNLV game tied at 14 late in the fourth quarter, Lobos linebacker Carmen Messina ripped the ball from the grasp of Rebels quarterback Taylor Barnhill. Defensive end Jaymar Latchison recovered, and Rogers scored the winning touchdown three plays later.
“Our defense has got to create more takeaways,” Barlow said. “(Against UNLV), we actually got one at a crucial time.”
For the UNM program, times are changing. On Wednesday, the Lobos learned former Notre Dame coach and ESPN analyst Bob Davie would be their new head coach. Davie spoke to the team for the first time Thursday, though Barlow and his staff will coach the team for the remainder of the season.
Is Davie’s in-season hiring a distraction? If so, it’s just one more.
First there was the rampant speculation about coach Mike Locksley’s job status, followed by his firing Sept. 25, followed by rumor after rumor about who the new coach would be. Now this.
Holbrook believes he and his teammates won’t be affected on the field today.
“We’re focused on Wyoming,” he said, “and that’s really our only goal this week.”