Arizona State heads to Albuquerque to take on the New Mexico Lobos Saturday afternoon in their second non-conference game of the year. It should be yet another game where the Sun Devils shouldn't have many issues, but a few question marks against Weber State may make this game feel a little uneasy to many Sun Devil faithful. Here's what the Lobos bring to the table.
If it weren't for two critical errors, the Lobos probably would have won, but instead fell to the UTEP Miners 31-24. New Mexico was down 24-7 at halftime but quarterback Cole Gautsche led them all the way back to tie it at 24. In the fourth quarter, running back Jhurell Pressley fumbled on the UTEP 27-yard line with the Lobos threatening to score. Dameon Gamblin then fumbled and it was returned by the Miners to the New Mexico six-yard line where the Miners easily scored the winning touchdown.
A potential critical loss for the Lobos came in the form of quarterback Cole Gautsche, who is out this week with a hamstring issue. He had a 51-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but left the game with about 12 minutes to go and in the process the Lobos couldn't get the offense going again. Gautsche finished the game with 194 yards rushing and 36 yards passing. Clayton Mitchem came in and finished 2 of 4 for 31 yards and recorded an interception as well.
New Mexico is content to run the ball until their legs can't carry them anymore. They run the triple-option under offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse. However the Lobos also run a lot of sets out of the pistol, so in that sense DeBesse has modernized the scheme a little bit.
Mitchem is a very capable replacement for Gautsche under center. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior split time with Gautsche last season, completing 35 of 78 passes for 639 yards and seven touchdowns. If there is anything the Sun Devils should watch out for, it's the Lobos' big play capability. With it being so run-heavy, an unexpected play action pass could really open up the field. Four wide receivers averaged at least 15.5 yards per catch and six averaged at least 12.5 last season.
New Mexico can also keep fresh legs in the backfield too. Last week the Lobos' had three players (Gautsche, Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson) who all had at least 75 yards on the ground. In the limited passing game, Jeric Magnant and Marquis Bundy are the two leading wide receivers, but they only combined for 39 total yards receiving last week. Bottom line is that New Mexico had 410 yards rushing against UTEP, so this should be a good preliminary test for the Sun Devils' run defense.
Check out this in-depth article from Burnt Orange Nation last season on how to defend New Mexico's triple-option offense.
6-foot-0, 230-pound sophomore linebacker Dakota Cox and 5-foot-9 204-pound senior safety David Gutherie are the two names you should hear the most on Saturday. Cox led the Lobos with 17 tackles last week against UTEP and Gutherie was right behind him with nine wrap ups.
The Lobos bring in a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Cosgrove. He was the inside linebackers coach for New Mexico the two previous seasons. He has a wealth of experience and was the defensive coordinator at Nebraska from 2004-07 and Wisconsin from 1995-2003. However the New Mexico defense was off to a shaky start last week to say the least, giving up 477 total yards of offense to UTEP. On the other side of the coin, they had a goal line in the fourth quarter and held the Miners scoreless in the second half until the turnovers were too much to handle.
Brandon Branch, a junior free safety who had 22.5 tackles last season, will line up opposite Gutherie to form the most experienced group on the defensive side of the ball for the Lobos. Redshirt freshman Kimmie Carson lined up beside Cox at linebacker and was third on the team with seven tackles last week, so linebacker could be a position of strength as well.
The defensive line is deep, but unproven. New Mexico brought in three JUCO defensive tackles in the offseason to try and strengthen their run defense. Sophomore Cole Juarez got the start at tackle last week and junior Paytron Hightower played the other end spot, neither of which recorded any stats at all last season. Senior defensive end Brett Bowers, who recorded 30 tackles and six sacks last season, got time at the other defensive end spot.
Carlos Wiggins is definitely a return threat that the Sun Devils need to worry about. He had 44 returns last year, averaging 29.9 yards per return and had three touchdowns. Zack Rogers is a redshirt junior walk-on who has won the starting job at punter and field goal kicker and proved himself last week.
Rogers had two punts, averaging 58 yards a piece and nailed a 35-yard field goal as well. Jason Sanders is the freshman kicker who had three touchbacks in five kicks, averaging 65 yards per kick. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham mentioned Sunday and Monday how impressed he was with Carlos Wiggins and the New Mexico special teams unit.