Before this Saturday's New Mexico Bowl between the Arizona Wildcats and the New Mexico Lobos, we checked in with Mountain West Connection's Ron Carrion to talk about New Mexico's season, who could make the difference for the Lobos, and his prediction for the game.
1. This New Mexico team is all over the map. S&P+ ranks them as the 101st best team in the country, but since the start of November, they've beaten Utah State, Boise State, and Air Force. So how good is this New Mexico team?
New Mexico came into the season with mixed expectations. I felt that they would win six games, but felt that the path to the New Mexico Bowl would include wins over San Jose State and Nevada, so wins over top teams in the Mountain Division of the conference were a big surprise. New Mexico is a team that was a few plays away from being division champions. It's a good team, and Arizona fans will be surprised at the amount of talent the Lobos have on offense. The Lobos can compete with the Wildcats. The team fans saw in November is the real New Mexico team and the team that will be on the field on Saturday.
2. How do you think the likely return of Scooby Wright to the Arizona line-up will affect how UNM tries to attack Arizona?
The return of Scooby Wright is big for Arizona. He's a game-changer for the Wildcats, but if you're New Mexico, you don't change your plan of attack based on his return. The Lobos, who finished 8th in the country in rushing, have eight players with touchdowns over 50 yards this year, so while Wright will make a lot of plays on Saturday, the Lobos must continue to do what they have done all year, as it has worked and is the reason they won seven games.
3. How will UNM's defense look to stop or slow down the Arizona offense?
New Mexico is ranked 93rd in the country in total defense, giving up 432 yards a game. While that is the best in the Bob Davie Era, the Lobos still struggle to stop opposing offenses, as they were only able to hold opponents under 20 points two times this year. Even in the victory over Air Force, the Lobos still gave up 35 points. Look for the Lobos' defense to bend, but not break, against the Wildcats.
4. What UNM players will make the biggest impact on Saturday?
The Lobos have a number of game-changers on the offensive side of the ball. Lamar Jordan runs the offense, and he makes good reads in the option and has the ability to make big plays. While he is not an efficient passer, he can make the occasional big throw. Delane Hart-Johnson and Carlos Wiggins are receivers that do not catch many passes, but when they do, they have the ability to score, as shown by Hart-Johnson's two touchdowns receptions over 80 yards this year. On the ground, the Lobos have a stable of backs, five of whom have touchdowns of 40 or more yards this year. Richard McQuarley, the biggest of the Lobo running backs, has a knack for finding the end zone, with seven touchdowns on the year on only 44 carries. You will also see Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson, who each had over 130 carries on the year. Both are very quick and average over 5.5 yards per carry. On the defense, look for Dakota Cox - he has 87 tackles this season, and it seems like when he is on the field, he is in on every play.
5. What is your prediction for this game?
Nationally, the New Mexico Bowl is not a big game, but for the Lobos, it is. This game is a chance for the Lobos to make a statement. Bob Davie has brought this team a long way in the last four years, and for them to beat a Power 5 team in a bowl game would be big. It would give a team that returns a lot of players next year a lot of momentum. Look for this to be a high-scoring game. The home field can be an advantage for the Lobos, but it all depends on the fan turnout. I think the Lobos will have a hard time stopping the Wildcats, but Arizona will be in the same boat. I expect the Lobos to win in a shootout, 49-44.
Thanks to Ron for answering our questions! You can follow him on Twitter @Rjc1810, and for coverage of the New Mexico Bowl from the Mountain West/UNM perspective, be sure to check out Mountain West Connection.