Stopping ground game is Utah’s No. 1 priority

By Whitney O’Bannon, Staff Writer

If the Lobo donning the No. 21 jersey runs into a pack of Utes this weekend and is not brought down immediately, this shouldn’t be a shocker. He runs fast, breaks tackles, and is one hard guy to bring to the turf.

Playing in his last game at University Stadium, senior captain tailback Rodney Ferguson is looking to run the Lobos to victory tomorrow against No. 10 Utah.

New Mexico (4-5, 2-3 MWC) is currently 13th in the nation in rush yards per game and that alone will be a challenge for the Utes’ defense, which is 6th in the nation against the run.

“Our goal at the first of every week when we prepare is to watch the run game and shut down the run game first,” Utah defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said. “(Ferguson) is obviously a really talented back and so we spend more time on the run game in practice (to get ready).”

Ranked 18th nationally and first in the Mountain West Conference in rushing, Ferguson is New Mexico’s go-to guy, especially with the recent season-ending injury to starting quarterback Donovan Porterie. Ferguson averages 108.1 yards a game and has scored 11 touchdowns this season.

He has a total of 3,324 career rushing yards, which ranks him second in MWC history.

The solid, 6-foot tailback has accumulated remarkable stats in many areas, especially rushing, over the past four years with the Lobos, but the Albuquerque, N.M., hometown guy brings more to the field than stats. He is versatile, hardworking and a leader.

“Ferguson is the lead rusher of the conference and he is doing a great job,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.

As well as being an impressive runner, he also can serve as a good coinciding pass blocker and has the ability to play fullback if needed.

In New Mexico’s most recent game versus Air Force, despite losing 23-10, Ferguson rushed for 107 yards and scored the Lobos’ only touchdown of the game.

The tale of this loss for New Mexico again was turnovers. The Lobos committed four in the game. In their five losses this season, they had 17 turnovers compared to three turnovers in their four wins.

The Lobos had an opportunity to go up 17-0 in the first quarter against Air Force, but instead Brad Gruner fumbled and it was recovered by Falcons safety Aaron Kirchoff and returned 96 yards for a touchdown. After that costly mistake, the Lobos began to fall apart and could never get their feet back under them in the game.

In the past, New Mexico has come from behind to steal important games.

“Both teams pride themselves on similar things,” New Mexico head coach Rocky Long said. “Both teams like to think they can run the ball and play good aggressive defense. So when the two teams get together usually it’s a close game.”

Statistically, Utah might appear to have the edge, but linebacker Stevenson Sylvester knows anything is possible.

“Those stats are always good, but you never know what could happen in a game,” Sylvester said.

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Tyler Cobb

Rodney Ferguson is the second leading rusher in MWC history and is looking to finish big in his final home game. The Utes defense have devoted extra practice time this week to stopping the run.