Coach: Rocky Long (8th season, 40–45) 2004 record: 7-5 (Lost to Navy in Emerald Bowl) MWC finish: 5-2 (2nd) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 30th (178.9 ypg) Passing: 114th (119.1 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 17th (108.3 ypg) Passing: 61st (214.9 ypg)
New Mexico State
at San Diego State
Depth Chart: Offense
7 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
5 returning starters in red
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Some folks at the University of New Mexico may be starting to believe that the adage "defense wins championships" is a myth. The Lobos, Oklahoma and Texas are the only Division I-A teams to rank in the top 30 in defense for five consecutive seasons. Yet, that success at UNM has produced three straight Mountain West Conference runner-up finishes. In 2005, the Lobos want to test whether offense wins championships.
"The next step in this program is to win a conference championship," eighth-year head coach Rocky Long said. "And we have to be good enough on offense to do that."
UNM, 114th nationally in passing offense and 108th in total offense last year, has changed the focus in its multiple-set attack. The emphasis will no longer be on the power-running that uses play action and option to keep opponents honest.
The Lobos' base formation now will be a one-back, three-receiver spread designed to use the entire field and stretch the defense. A healthy DonTrell Moore will provide a steady ground game to complement an aerial attack that lacks proven weapons at receiver.
With a new passing attack, a proven tailback and an aggressive defense, the Lobos could finally become the MWC champ.
The Lobos are undergoing a makeover after watching how quarterbacks Alex Smith (Utah) and Aaron Polanco (Navy) ran their respective offenses in '04 and gave UNM's defense fits. Quarterback Kole McKamey will operate New Mexico's attack as the Lobos will run a one-back, three-receiver spread, using McKamey as a second running option.
Stretching the defense also should allow the Lobos to compensate should Moore not be ready to start the season as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. Whenever Moore, a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his three seasons, is able to return, the new offense will keep defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage to stop him. Adrian Byrd and Rodney Ferguson will fill in until Moore returns to full speed.
Wide receiver Hank Baskett was the lone bright spot in the passing attack last season, but four other receivers return with game experience. Tight end Logan Hall is healthy after playing all of '04 with an injured right hand.
If junior college All-American Anthony Kilby can learn the nuances at tackle in fall camp, the line's strong side, with center Ryan Cook and guard Robert Turner, could be the best in the Mountain West Conference.
The defensive line, the Lobos' perceived weakness entering the '04 season, is now the perceived strength. All-MWC nosetackle Marcus Parker returns to lead an experienced front line that now has plenty of talented depth to form a quality rotation.
The strength and depth up front has allowed UNM to move touted defensive end Michael Tuohy to linebacker, enabling the team to remain in the 3-4 alignment it used last season. Former walk-on Mike Mohoric will lead this group of athletic linebackers. Quincy Black is a physical specimen on the outside, and Cody Kase makes up for his lack of size with effort and determination.
The safety spot is a nice blend of veterans and junior college newcomers who cut their teeth in spring ball. Transfer Aleem Harris will challenge Charles Brown and Tyson Ditmore for a starting spot. Gabriel Fulbright and Jerrell Malone both have potential to be shut-down corners. The Lobos have enough depth in the secondary to revert to their traditional 3-3-5 alignment if necessary.
After three years, senior punter Tyler Gaus is looking to put it all together this season, while placekickers Kenny Byrd and Garth Archibald will battle for kicking duties.
The Lobos spent the offseason addressing their offensive shortcomings in hopes of landing that elusive conference championship after three near-misses.
This year, New Mexico is still among the best in the MWC despite Moore's health (torn ACL) questions. If McKamey can build upon his Emerald Bowl performance (207 yards passing, 138 yards rushing), watch out.
Defense is the team's forte, and the Lobos have their deepest unit in five seasons. The question will be whether or not New Mexico can start quickly.
Opening against a MWC rival is never easy, but if the Lobos can defeat UNLV at home, it could provide the momentum needed to carry New Mexico to the school's first conference title in 41 years.