2010 New Mexico Preview
New Mexico LB Carmen Messina
New Mexico LB Carmen Messina
Posted Aug 9, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - New Mexico Lobos

New Mexico Lobos

Preview 2010

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Mike Locksley
2nd year: 1-11
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 21, Def. 20, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best New Mexico Players
1. LB Carmen Messina, Jr.
2. DE Johnathan Rainey, Jr.
3. DE Jaymar Latchison, Jr.
4. DT Peter Gardner, Sr.
5. RB Demond Dennis, Soph.
6. RB James Wright, Jr.
7. DT Ugo Uzodinma, Soph.
8. RB Kasey Carrier, Soph.
9. OT Byron Bell, Jr.
10. DT Reggie Ellis, Soph.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 at Oregon
Sept. 11 Texas Tech
Sept. 18 Utah
Sept. 25 at UNLV
Oct. 2 UTEP
Oct. 9 at NMSU
Oct. 23 San Diego State
Oct. 30 at Colorado State
Nov. 6 Wyoming
Nov. 13 at Air Force
Nov. 20 at BYU
Nov. 27 TCU

Head coach Mike Locksley had one of the ugliest debuts a head coach could possibly come up with. Fortunately, the bar has been set low so the expectations won't be there externally to do much. While that might not seem like a plus, there a good pieces in place to quickly become one of the surprise teams of the Mountain West season.

The ugly incident involving Locksley and receivers coach J.B. Gerald, which cost Locksley a one game suspension, was the high profile part of the disaster, while the team's total and complete ineptitude didn't help the cause. Things had slipped under former head coach Rocky Long, who made New Mexico football relevant but couldn't take things to another level, but the program wasn't in 1-11 shape; that took a whole other level of bad to come up with a season like the Lobos had.

From the horrendous offensive line play, to the inefficient passing game, to the special teams that went from phenomenal to pathetic in one year, to the struggles to run the ball, throw the ball, and stop anyone from completing a pass, everything was bad. However, there were several positives to build on.

First and foremost, the team didn't quit. It fought BYU hard in a 24-19 loss and it came up with a clutch win over Colorado State to prevent a winless season. While losing to New Mexico State was bad and failing to come within single-digits in eight games didn't look good, the team kept fighting and appeared to have a decent attitude through all the adversity. While Locksley has done his part to keep upbeat and keep everyone moving forward, after what happened last year, he has to prove he can actually coach.

The defense has three of the Mountain West's best players in linebacker Carmen Messina and ends Johnathan Rainey and Jaymar Latchison, but the secondary needs to be night and day better with the corners needing to show something positive early on and the untested safeties needing to prove they can play. Even worse were the special teams that were so tremendous at times under Long. They went into the tank last year, and now the goal is for the coverage teams and the return game to not be a negative.

The offense was the bigger issue with too many turnovers, struggles to keep the chains moving, and way too many problems putting points on the board. The line has to be able to give the young quarterbacks time to work, the running backs need room to move, and the receivers need time to use their speed to make things happen down the field.

This is a young, rebuilding team that still needs work and still needs improving, but 2009 has to be an aberration. Another 1-11 type of campaign with more embarrassment and more problems might mean that Locksley, a terrific recruiter, has stocked the shelves for a new head man in 2011.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. There are five options with only the projected starter, B.R. Holbrook, the only one with any appreciable experience. Brad Gruner has a knee problem, Tate Smith has a bum shoulder, and Darian "Stump" Godfrey and Tarean Austin are true freshmen who have talent, but are true freshmen. All five prospects need time to grow and they need time to work behind a line that offered an open invite to defensive lines to walk into the backfield. Keeping the turnovers to a minimum is a key, and that will only happen if the quarterbacks don't have to press. That might be tough if the Lobos keep falling behind.

What to watch for on defense: The potential emergence of a dominant defensive front. The line wasn't miserable last year helping the Lobos finish second in the Mountain West in tackles for loss and fourth in sacks, but there were problems against the run and there weren't enough key stops. This year, Johnathan Rainey and Jaymar Latchison should be a deadly defensive end pair that crunches quarterbacks throughout the season, while veteran tackle Peter Gardner should be a good one now that he knows what he's doing. The key could be the emergence of former Illinois top prospects Ugo Uzodinma and Reggie Ellis at tackle. If they're great, the line could be one of the most productive in the league.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line isn't next-level bad. Cohesion wasn't a problem last year with three starters playing the entire year and with the other two spots not having too many problems filling the spots, but the production was lousy and everything trickled down from there. The quarterbacks were under pressure and threw too many picks, the running game disappeared for long stretches, and the third down production wasn't there with defenses teeing off into the backfield for 94 tackles for loss. It'll still be a process to improve, but if the Lobos get a little more from the front five, the season will be radically different.

The schedule: It's not going to be pretty early on, but things ease up big-time after the first three weeks. It'll be a shock if the Lobos aren't 0-3 after starting out at Oregon and getting Texas Tech and Utah at home, but the next five games are against teams that didn't go bowling last year. If they can't take advantage of the nice oasis, it's uh-oh time in the finishing kick with the last four games against some of the league's top teams starting out hosting Wyoming before going to Air Force and BYU. If there's any hope of going to a bowl game, the six wins have to come before the regular season finale against TCU.

Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Demond Dennis … or sophomore RB Kasey Carrier or junior RB James Wright. The Lobos have a little something for everyone in the offensive backfield with speed, quickness, and in Wright, power. The backs are all good enough to crank out big yards in chunks if they get the chance, with the speedy Dennis averaging 5.5 yards per crack and Wright coming up with 5.8 yards per run, but they need the offense to not fall behind so quickly and they need the line to be better.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Carmen Messina. Technically, the best defensive player is probably either one of the star ends, Johnathan Rainey or Jaymar Latchison, but Messina will be the signature star of the defense. He's only 6-2 and 222 pounds, but he was the nation's leading tackler making stop after stop in an amazing year coming out of the blue. In just two seasons he has made 197 tackles with 4.5 sacks with four forced fumbles, and now the national attention will start to come.

Key player to a successful season: Junior OTs Byron Bell and Maurice Mears. Bell has been a starter for the last two seasons but has been up and down due to a variety of issues. However, he has NFL tools as either a right tackle or a guard, and at 6-5 and 330 pounds he has to be a difference maker at left tackle. The 6-3, 304-pound Mears is a guard playing tackle, and he has to show right away that he can be more than a turnstile for the quicker pass rushers.

The season will be a success if … the Lobos win five games. Good luck trying to find where those wins are going to come, but UNLV is in a transitional phase, UTEP is nothing special, New Mexico State is still trying to find its way under head coach DeWayne Walker, and San Diego State, Colorado State, and Wyoming are all beatable. However, none of those are sure things unless the Lobos are far, far better, and it's going to take an upset of monumental proportions to beat a team like Utah or BYU.

Key game: Sept. 25 at UNLV. The Lobos are going to lose their opening three games of the year against Oregon, Texas Tech, and Utah unless something crazy happens, and the game in Vegas will be the first time they'll be able to pick on someone their own size. This begins the easy stretch of five straight games against teams that didn't go bowling last year, and the run has to kick off with a win or else it'll be desperation time going into October.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Second Quarter Scoring: Opponents 133 – New Mexico 59
- Third Down Conversions: Opponents 48% - New Mexico 30%
- Rushing Touchdowns: Opponents 23 – New Mexico 8

- 2010 New Mexico Preview | 2010 New Mexico Offense
- 2010 New Mexico Defense | 2010 New Mexico Depth Chart
- New Mexico Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006