Improved Lobos hoping to give Utah trouble

By Joe Simmons , Staff Writer

The New Mexico Lobos have had a tough year so far, and they know things aren’t going to get any easier this Saturday when they come to Rice-Eccles Stadium to face the No. 14 Utes.

“We’ve got a challenge going up to Salt Lake City,” said first-year New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley. “Utah is consistently one of the best teams, not just in the conference, but in the country.”

The Lobos come into Saturday’s game having yet to win a game on the season and trying to bounce back from a tough 23-20 loss at San Diego State last week.

New Mexico quarterback Donovan Porterie started the 2009 season slowly, but has recently shown improvement. In the first three games of the season Porterie averaged 199 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions, while completing 164-276 (59 percent) of his passes. However, in his past five games he has averaged 254 yards passing for seven TDs and three interceptions, increasing his QB efficiency rating to 117.85.

Porterie will pass to a talented and balanced receiving corps, which has eight receivers with 10 or more catches on the season. Five have more than 200 yards receiving on the year.

One of Porterie’s favorite targets is dual-threat running back A.J. Butler, who leads the team in receptions, with 32 for 213 yards, and is third on the team in rushing attempts, with 50 for 186 yards.

Butler is one of three backs that the Lobos have used this season with James Wright and Demond Dennis rushing for 246 yards and 261 yards on the year, respectively.

Porterie will have his hands full against Utah’s talented defense, which Locksley said appears on film to be the best he’s seen all year.

“The biggest thing that jumps out at me about Utah is their defense.” Locksley said. “They’ve got tremendous athleticism, not just in the front seven but also in their secondary.”

The Ute offense will face a New Mexico defense that is giving up an average of 413.5 yards and 35.5 points per game. Although Utah’s starting quarterback will be a game-time decision, whoever it is will face a New Mexico secondary that statistically is one of the weakest in the nation. Against the Lobos defense, which ranks 105th in the nation, teams have averaged 252.4 passing yards per game, and quarterbacks are averaging an efficiency rating of 150.37, 111th nationally.

The Lobos are led on defense by two sophomores, middle linebacker Carmen Messina and defensive end Johnathan Rainey. Messina ranks first in the nation in tackles with 13.5 per game and Rainey leads the MWC in tackles for loss with 12.5.

Despite being winless, Locksley said that he believes his team will be ready for the challenge against Utah.

“Donovan Porterie is playing his best football of the season and we’ll play hard and fight through,” Locksley said.

The Lobos nearly played spoiler the last time the two programs faced each other, when the Utes barely escaped Albuquerque with a 13-10 win in 2008.

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