UW-New Mexico Q&A swap

I asked New Mexico football beat writer Rick Wright of the Albuquerque Journal five questions about Saturday’s game with Wyoming.

First are the questions I asked Rick and his answers, followed by his questions for me and my answers. Let me know what you think, and we also can talk about them during today’s live chat at 3 p.m. (see the blog for the direct link).

How has interim coach George Barlow done in keeping the team together and competitive after the firing of Mike Locksley, and in your opinion, what will the new coach have to do to get the program going in the right direction? He’s done well. The players seem to like and trust him, and he seems genuinely more interested in their success than his own. Barlow has been a good caretaker, but the new ooach is going to have to take a no-more-mr.-nice-guy approach and instill more toughness and discipline.

How big was the Lobos’ first victory of the season last week against UNLV, and what did they do to be effective to get that victory? (Quarterback) B.R. Holbrook referenced the proverbial monkey off the back, and I’m sure that’s how all the players feel. Deon Long’s 80-yard touchdown catch from Holbrook on the game’s first play from scrimmage was electric; the Lobos have had trouble bouncing back from early adversity all year, so a strong start was crucial. It certainly helped that UNLV had virtually no passing game with Caleb Herring out, but the Lobos made enough plays on botrh sides of the ball to win.

How good are receivers Deon Long and Ty Kirk, and what makes them good?Kirk is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered against Air Force. Long continues to be hampered by turf-toe and ankle injuries, but showed against UNLV that his 4.4 speed is still there. He’s a football player, not just a sprinter in shoulder pads, who can make tough catches in traffic. He’s a terrific kick returner, too, but probably won’t see action again there this season because of the injuries. A tough kid who loves to play.

Sounds like B.R. Holbrook has settled in at QB for the Lobos. What has he done well and not so well this season? He’s tried to force some things and been picked off in recent games, but that’s going to happen sometimes when you’re playing from behind. Against UNLV, he rolled out more than in the past, and with excellent effect. He threw on target and made good decisions throughout, and didn’t hesitate to run when the opportunity presented.

Are you surprised with the success Wyoming has had this season, and your predicted final score of Saturday’s game? I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I picked Wyoming last in the preseason poll — largely because Dave Christensen had two true freshman competing for the starting QB job. How was I to know Brett Smith would play more like a senior than a freshman? The Lobos are pretty charged up after their first win and believe they can compete. Again, a good start is crucial for these guys. I’m going to say they get it — but I’m going with Wyoming, 27-14.

——————————————————————————————-All signs seem to point to Brett Smith as the reason Wyoming has improved so dramatically this season. But what are the other major factors? Smith is certainly a big factor in Wyoming’s improvement. But the offensive line also is better. Wyoming averages about 181 rushing yards per game, which is up about 62 yards from last season. The defense has allowed a some points and yards, but it’s also forced 24 turnovers and is second in the nation in turnover margin. And, like its 7-6 season in 2009 — the first under coach Dave Christensen — some other freshmen have made key contributions like receivers Dominic Rufran and Josh Doctson, and cornerback Blair Burns.

Any reaction up there to the hiring of Bob Davie as the new UNM football coach? If so, what? There was some reaction that the Lobos got a big name, but there was a lot of reaction of why Davie? Was he the best candidate for the job, and why did New Mexico go after a guy that hasn’t coached since 2001? Most of the reaction was the latter.

The Cowboys obviously have a lot more to play for than they did when they came to Albuquerque, they’re aware New Mexico won last week, and I’ve read that they have last year’s score plasted all over the athletic complex. Even so, as three touchdown-plus favorites, any chances they’ll be overconfident? With a young team like Wyoming I think that is a possibility, but Christensen has done a good job this season (other than a 63-19 loss at Utah State) of getting this team ready to play. I think it helps that Saturday will be the last game for the seniors, and players young and old want to send this group out with a win in its last home game.

How damaging, on Saturday and beyond, is the loss of receiver Chris McNeill? Personally, I think it will be significant. Wyoming plays eight or nine receivers a game, but no one was playing as well as McNeill the last three games. He was playing at an all-conference level, and had become Smith’s go-to guy with 22 catches for 277 yards and three touchdowns during that span. McNeill also was the team’s best punt returner, and the holder on extra points and field goals. It will be tough to replace him.

Turnover margin has been huge for the Cowboys this season. There’s always some luck involved there, but beyond that, is it more the scheme or more the players? The coaches will tell you that they emphasize forcing turnovers every year and in every practice. That’s true, but this year the Cowboys have been doing a much better job, especially with recovering fumbles with 16. Sometimes I think the defense spends too much time trying to force turnovers and that hurts its tackling. But I think it’s a combination of working on it in practice and the ball bouncing its way. But whatever Wyoming is doing, it’s contagious as 13 different players have recovered fumbles and five different players have intercepted passes.

  • Ron smith

    As i said before YOU get an “ata boy” for this format. It might be a little political but all in all it is VERY informative. My question to you is “Will McNeill going down help Smith become a better QB as he is forced to change his MO when things break down and he has to truly seek opportunities that present themselves? Fortunatrely for the pokes two of the last 3 games should favor them with or without McNeill.

    • rgagliardi

      The way Smith has played and all the tests he has passed there’s good reason to think Smith will pass this one, too. But it takes the receivers on the other end to help Smith out. Many of them have played well, but some need to play better. And, many of them are younger guys. I see Ogbonna as the guy Smith may look for to make key catches at key times.

      RG