History predicts Lobos’ victory

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

The New Mexico football team seems to have broken down its schedule into a four-game pattern.

After losing their season opener to Texas-El Paso 10-6, the Lobos rebounded with three straight victories. The second interval began with a loss to BYU in New Mexico’s conference opener. The Lobos responded with three more victories in a row.

After losing two weeks ago to TCU and squeaking by Colorado State last week, the third interval in New Mexico’s season has begun in familiar fashion. If history holds true, then the Lobos are set to end their season in style with two more wins.

The grease that makes the hinges turn for the Lobos is sophomore quarterback Donovan Porterie. It’s not a coincidence that Porterie’s three worst passer ratings came in New Mexico’s three losses against UTEP (105.03), BYU (101.85) and TCU (58.19).

Porterie gets help from running back Rodney Ferguson, a preseason Doak Walker Award watchlist member. The tandem’s production has accounted for almost 90 percent of the team’s yardage.

Despite rocky numbers, the New Mexico defense has confused opponents all season. The Lobos feature a seldom-used 3-3-5 formation. In this formation, three down linemen are backed up by three linebackers, leaving five defensive backs in the secondary.

This defense formation has led to mixed results for the Lobos. After both New Mexico State and Arizona shredded the Lobos’ secondary early in the season, the defensive backs have shored things up. New Mexico has not allowed a 300-yard passer since and has held five of its last seven opponents under 200 yards passing.

Offenses have figured out how to run the ball against the formation as the season has worn on. The Lobos held opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing three times in their first six games, but things have changed in the latter parts of 2007. New Mexico’s 3-3-5 defense has allowed nearly 200 yards rushing per contest in its last four games.

“I think people realize that we’re small up front, and they’re going to try and run it at us more often,” New Mexico head coach Rocky Long said. “We can be just as good against the run as we have been up until the last two weeks if we can lock up man-to-man and not give up big plays.”

The pattern doesn’t bode well for the Lobos when they visit Rice-Eccles Stadium against Darrell Mack and the Utes. Mack is second in the Mountain West Conference in yards per game, but the Lobos feel they are ready to tackle both Mack and the challenge that the Utes present this week.

“This is the biggest game of the season right now,” New Mexico safety Blake Ligon said. “That’s how we are preparing for it. This is a championship game to us. We are taking it very seriously right now.”

Utah is also ready to play in this crucial Mountain West showdown. Head coach Kyle Whittingham has had the challenge of wrapping up the loose ends of last week’s crushing of Wyoming. Both Whittingham and Cowboy head coach Joe Glenn apologized Monday for their actions on Nov. 10. Whittingham called an onside kick with a 43-0 lead and just more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Glenn responded with an obscene gesture in the direction of the Utah bench.

Whittingham has tried to distance himself and the team from the controversy surrounding the Wyoming game this week in practice.

“The focus has been good all week in practice,” Whittingham said. “But we still have to perform on Saturday.”

With both teams pushing for an outside shot at a conference championship, the game begs to be close. New Mexico has plenty of experience in close games this season. The Lobos have won four games by three points or fewer. Wins over San Diego State and Air Force needed fourth-quarter comebacks. Last week’s victory over CSU was sealed with a last-second field goal.

A victory over the Utes and UNLV next week would complete the third interval of New Mexico’s season accordingly and lock up at least second place in the MWC.

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Associated Press

New Mexico’s John Sullivan is very happy to have finally won a game.