FACTS & STATS: Site: Bronco Stadium (30,000) -- Boise, Idaho. Television: ESPN 2. Home Record: UNM 2-4, BSU 5-0. Away Record: UNM 1-4, BSU 2-4. Neutral Record: UNM 0-0, BSU 0-0. Conference Record: UNM 1-6, BSU 5-2. Series Record: Boise State leads, 4-0.
GAME NOTES: Having given up a combined 135 points in the last two games, the New Mexico Lobos are hoping for a much better performance this time around as they close out the regular season against the Boise State Broncos on Saturday night.
New Mexico, which has gone through some rough times in recent years, has won just three games in 2013 and while that is a disappointing number, it still might pale in comparison to the squad's lackluster play on defense the last couple of weeks.
On Nov. 16, the Lobos were beaten by Colorado State in the final home game of the season, 66-42, and then last week it got even worse for UNM as it awakened an undefeated and well-rested Fresno State squad that generated a 69-28 win in California.
The Broncos may be bowl eligible yet again, but their season has already fallen far short of their lofty expectations as they dropped their fourth game of the campaign last Saturday night in a 34-31 overtime loss to San Diego State on the road. The Aztecs became the first BSU opponent to defeat the Broncos in back-to-back seasons since Washington State turned the trick in 2000-01. The Broncos had not lost to the same conference foe in consecutive seasons since they went down to North Texas in 1998-99.
BSU has won all four previous meetings between the squads, including a 32-29 decision last season.
The Lobos were throttled by the best team in the Mountain West Conference last Saturday, bowing to undefeated and nationally-ranked Fresno State on the road by 41 points. The team produced 168 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the meeting, one each by Crusoe Gongbay, Jhurell Pressley and quarterback Clayton Mitchem, but it wasn't nearly enough as the squad surrendered a staggering 820 yards of offense, 527 of which was credited to quarterback Derek Carr who tossed seven touchdowns. New Mexico, now last in the country in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 170.06, has dropped two in a row and five of the last six outings. Even after the onslaught last weekend, the Lobos are next-to-last in the country in run defense with 264.3 ypg allowed, slightly worse than the 259.8 ypg permitted through the air.
While the defense has been unbearable for the Lobos again this season, the offense has shown some signs of life, particularly when the team opts to keep the ball on the ground. After 11 games, New Mexico ranks sixth in the country with 309.6 ypg rushing, but the team has lost the services of Kasey Carrier to a concussion. Carrier, who had appeared in 10 games, was responsible for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns, both team-highs, and simply trying to plug in another running back has not been a suitable answer for the Lobos.
Also on the shelf for this final regular season game is quarterback Cole Gautsche, as he too suffered a concussion recently. Gautsche had converted just 44.9 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and 63.9 ypg, but clearly his ability to throw the ball was now a key factor in the Lobos being able to move up and down the field. As a unit, New Mexico ranks just 120th in passing with 118.5 ypg this season.
BSU's Grant Hedrick converted 21-of-35 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off twice and sacked four times, with one of those INTs being returned for a touchdown, as the Broncos went down to San Diego State in overtime last weekend. Jay Ajayi ran for 103 yards and a score on 22 carries, while Bryan Douglas returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD in the first quarter, but still the Broncos find themselves with four defeats in a single season for the first time since 2005 when they were 9-4 overall, but still the Western Athletic Conference champions with a 7-1 mark.
Honestly, the defense for the Broncos against SDSU wasn't all that bad, permitting just 349 yards on 83 snaps, but when coupled with the slumping BSU offense (297 yards), it was just the right combination to send BSU to another loss. The Broncos managed to come up with nine tackles for loss in the meeting, three of those being posted by Demarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Broncos this season, coming up with 62 tackles, 18 of which have come behind the line of scrimmage, in only 10 games. He is also first in sacks (10.5) by a wide margin and has registered three forced fumbles and two of the unit's three blocked kicks for good measure.
Hedrick, who has taken over for an injured Joe Southwick, now has more passing TDs (12) than his predecessor, although his accuracy (.689) still falls short of the lofty rate at which Southwick operated (.723).
Expect Ajayi to get a lot of play this weekend for the Broncos, since he has generated 16 rushing TDs and close to 1,200 yards, and the New Mexico defense has struggled so much.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Boise State 45, New Mexico 17
Saturday, November 30, 10:15 p.m. (ET)