Wow. I hate playing the Lobos. I don't know why, but they give Utah hell. Saturday was no different, as the Utes barely left Albuquerque with a 13-10 victory, their worst offensive performance of the season -- well at least in terms of points.
The Utes did manage 388 yards of total offense, 193 of which came on the ground, but yeesh, it was like the offense just could not sustain a drive. In fact, they rarely did, marching down field only a few times and only finding the end zone after a hook and lateral in the third quarter. At that point, it looked like maybe Utah was easing into the game and would roll, however, New Mexico came back, scoring a touchdown of their own, pulling within three. After that, though, neither team did much on offense and Utah essentially ran out the clock. But a win is a win and the Utes are 9-0 for only the second time in school history, so it's going to be difficult not enjoying this win, especially since it was a game I really was nervous for. Mostly because of what I said in my preview, how the Lobos have succeeded at making the games closer than they should be, positioning themselves to win in the final minutes and doing just that. Luckily, this didn't happen Saturday.
Really, Utah winning the way they did just may prove this team is capable of finding a path to victory regardless of the opponent. I mentioned it leading up to the game, New Mexico has won every close game between the Utes over the past ten years. The last time Utah managed to win a tight one was a 15-10 victory in 1997. Over a decade ago! But Utah broke that maddening streak and now can focus on TCU, which could prove to be one of the biggest games in Utah football history. In fact, I'll state it, outside of the 2004 BYU game, this is the biggest game in school history. A victory will lock up the Mountain West title and certainly will make them the clear favorites to crash the BCS, especially with BYU just looking completely lost on defense. And maybe that played a role in Saturday's game, as the Utes surely had to be at least thinking of the TCU game. I mean, they're human after all. Of course, if they were, they almost got burned for it.
So what did I like about the game? Well the defense for starters. They held the Lobos to only ten points two weeks after they dropped 70 on San Diego State. New Mexico could only muster 284 yards of total offense and they held Rodney Ferguson -- their star back -- to only 34 yards on the ground. That was a huge defensive effort and proves this is a pretty sick defense. You also have to like the fact they won against a team they seem to struggle against historically. So that's good and should not be diminished by anyone. Yeah, we all would have liked to dominate, but this win might have finally proven once and for all Kyle Whittingham is not Ron McBride Junior.
Outside of that, there were a lot of things I didn't like. For starters, penalties. I hope this is nothing more than Utah having difficulty settling down from their bye week, but I guess we'll see Thursday if this was the case or not. Also, Bradon Godfrey, what the hell? I normally don't call out players on my blog, because I feel that isn't my place, but damn, I've never seen a player get two offensive personal fouls in consecutive plays. Yes, I get it, you hate the Lobos. I hate the Lobos, but that could have cost your team a shot at the BCS right there. Not cool. Hopefully Coach chewed his ass out and there won't be a repeat performance against the Frogs Thursday.
Other than that, the offense couldn't sniff out a blitz to save its life, but I will credit Brian Johnson for not panicking. He did overthrow his receivers on the deep ball, but I'll take that over him under throwing them and forcing the turnover. On the night, Johnson's stats weren't horrible, as he was 23 of 32 for 195 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also was only sacked once, which is a great stat, since that had been an issue when opposing teams blitzed in the past.
Unfortunately, Utah will face a far tougher defense this week and probably a better offense than what the Lobos produced over the weekend. That means this game is most likely going to be another nail biter and it will require Utah to play smart and fundamentally sound football. If they play like they did against the Lobos, I expect a definitive loss. If they play like they are capable of playing, they should win.