FACTS & STATS: Site: University Stadium (39,224) -- Albuquerque, New Mexico. Television: ROOT-RM. Home Record: USU 1-2, UNM 1-2. Away Record: USU 2-2, UNM 1-2. Neutral Record: USU 0-0, UNM 0-0. Conference Record: USU 2-1, UNM 0-2. Series Record: New Mexico leads, 11-8.
GAME NOTES: The Utah State Aggies try to bring an end to a two-game slide this weekend when they clash with the New Mexico Lobos in Mountain West Conference action at University Stadium in Albuquerque.
Losers of back-to-back games for the first time since 2011, the Aggies also had their 13-game conference win streak snapped by Boise State last Saturday in a 34-23 final at home. Eight days earlier, USU also bowed to in-state rival BYU, 31-14, in a meeting that saw the squad lose star quarterback Chuckie Keeton for the season with an injury.
Despite dropping three of the last four contests overall, the Aggies are still tied with the aforementioned Broncos for second place in the Mountain Division of the MWC, sporting a record of 2-1.
As for the Lobos, they've come up empty in their two league bouts thus far and that has them settling for fifth place in the Mountain Division. A week after blowing the doors off rival New Mexico State (66-17), UNM fell right back into the loss column with a 38-31 defeat at the hands of Wyoming in Laramie last weekend. The setback was the third in four tries for the Lobos.
The last matchup between these two squads took place a decade ago, with UNM taking a 34-7 victory in order to move to an 11-8 advantage in the all-time series.
Without Keeton the Aggies were bound to struggle against Boise State at home, but still Utah State gave it a good effort as it bowed in an 11-point decision. Craig Harrison made the start at quarterback and converted 7-of-17 passes for 105 yards, while being sacked twice. Backup signal caller Darell Garretson stepped in and hit on 9-of-14 passes for 116 yards and a score, but he too was sacked twice and had two attempts picked off.
Travis Reynolds had a career-high 142 yards on five catches and Jake Doughty registered a career-high 19 tackles for the Aggies in the setback. Also on defense, Nevin Lawson logged two interceptions, one of which he returned 65 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. For his efforts, Lawson was named the MWC Defensive Player of the Week.
Lawson may have claimed the weekly award handed out by the league after his performance versus BSU, but still the overwhelming star on the USU defense is Doughty with his team-best 83 tackles. Also garnering a fair amount of attention is Kyler Fackrell who has made eight of his 46 overall tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and leads the group in sacks with four.
Obviously the loss of Keeton means that many other skill players on offense have to step up their efforts in order to compensate. It is one thing to try and fill the void of Keeton the passer who completed almost 70 percent of his attempts for 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions, but as the third- leading rusher (241 yards, two TDs), that combination is not easily found these days.
Joey DeMartino can probably pick up even more of the slack in the running game, but considering he already leads the unit with 462 yards and five touchdowns that might add too much to his plate.
Despite getting off to a slow start, scoring just three points in the first half, the Lobos made it rather exciting against Wyoming on the road last Saturday, before suffering the seven-point defeat. Quarterback Cole Gautsche completed 11-of-21 passes for 156 yards and a score, and he also led the team on the ground with 113 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts, but the squad still lost for the third time in the last four outings. Also picking up significant yardage on the ground for New Mexico was Casey Carrier who logged 104 yards on 25 attempts, the team coming away with 257 yards rushing overall.
The UNM defense, which registered only a single sack, permitted 532 yards of total offense to the Cowboys.
The Lobos have certainly seen better days when it comes to their defense, allowing 239.2 ypg on the ground and 478.5 ypg overall to rank 115th in the country in both categories. The scoring defense has taken a major hit as a result, displaying 36.0 ppg allowed which is tied for 108th in the nation. If not for the commanding win over NMSU, a team which entered the week tied for the longest losing streak in the country, there's no telling how bad the numbers would be right now.
Generating 349.2 ypg on the ground, second-best in the country, is one way to attack defenses, but at the same time the Lobos are generating just 93.2 ypg through the air, second-worst among all FBS programs.
Gautsche has tried to give UNM some semblance of a passing attack, but his 44.7 percent accuracy and a mere four touchdowns in five games just isn't good enough.
The Lobos are going to do everything they can to control the tempo of the game and keep control of the ball by running almost each and every snap, yet that's still probably not good enough to keep USU from getting back into the win column this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah State 27, New Mexico 17
Saturday, October 19, 9 p.m. (et).