The New Mexico Lobos And How To Disappear Completely

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom. And as always, if you don't like numbers, just skip to the words.

The dregs of FBS typically change about as infrequently as the elites. Bless his heart, DeWayne Walker is trying his hardest at New Mexico State, but to say that the NMSU job is an uphill climb is stretching the definition of "hill." Same with Ron English at Eastern Michigan. Some jobs are simply difficult. But ... New Mexico?

From 2001 to 2007, Rocky Long's Lobos finished .500 or better every season, going to five bowls in six years, knocking off the likes of Arizona, Missouri (I still have nightmares about this game), Texas Tech and Baylor along the way. They were a rock solid, above average mid-major program. Not exactly Utah, but not exactly New Mexico State either. But the Lobos fell to 4-8 in Long's final season (2008); when Long left Albuquerque, UNM turned to former Ron Zook assistant Mike Locksley...

...who has gone 2-22. Two and twenty-two! I always say that a new coach deserves at least three years on the job to establish himself and his bona fides, and clearly New Mexico Athletic Director Paul Krebs agrees. But let's just say that if Locksley had been removed from his duties after just two seasons, 22 losses and one fight with an assistant (and subsequent suspension), I wouldn't be tut-tutting the decision too much.

So where does New Mexico, not that long ago a decent program, go from here? Is there any semblance of breakthrough talent on hand? Immediate answers are neither clear nor encouraging, but quite a few transfers from BCS schools will at least ensure that some new blood gets worked into the mix this year.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk**: 119
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep at Oregon 0-72 L 6.4 - 32.4 L
11-Sep Texas Tech 17-52 L 21.3 - 35.2 L
18-Sep Utah 14-56 L 14.9 - 38.0 L
25-Sep at UNLV 10-45 L 8.3 - 41.5 L
2-Oct UTEP 20-38 L 10.2 - 33.2 L
9-Oct at New Mexico State 14-16 L 11.9 - 18.0 L
23-Oct San Diego State 20-30 L 17.3 - 19.9 L
30-Oct at Colorado State 14-38 L 13.1 - 41.6 L
6-Nov Wyoming 34-31 W 23.9 - 42.4 L
13-Nov at Air Force 23-48 L 23.0 - 31.7 L
20-Nov at BYU 7-40 L 15.5 - 38.6 L
27-Nov TCU 17-66 L 11.4 - 32.5 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 15.8 116 44.3 120
Adj. Points Per Game 14.8 120 33.8 117

The less said about New Mexico's season, the better. The Lobos knocked off Wyoming to avoid a winless season, and they twice came within a touchdown of an "Adj. Win" (meaning they'd have beaten a perfectly average team with their performance that week) ... and that's about the most positivity I can manage. Lineup instability and lack of playmaking talent doomed this team.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 118 117 120
RUSHING 113 109 116 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 119 120 116 110
Standard Downs 118 116 119 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 117 117 117 117
Redzone 66 98 38
Q1 Rk 113 1st Down Rk 117
Q2 Rk 119 2nd Down Rk 117
Q3 Rk 115 3rd Down Rk 113
Q4 Rk 111

New Mexico's offense was as boring on paper as it was ineffective on the field. The Lobos ran and passed at perfectly normal rates, they ran plays at a perfectly normal pace, they varied the script to a normal level … the only abnormal thing they did was throw a lot in the redzone, and guess what: redzone offense was the best part of their offense.

When you don't have enough talent, you have to get creative to move the ball. Considering the Lobos had the least explosive offense, and the least efficient passing game, in the country, it's safe to say the talent wasn't really there. So now they have to figure out how to get creative. Who can first-year offensive coordinator David Reaves turn to for success in moving the ball? Honestly, I'm not sure.

Two of the "top" three running backs (in quotes because "top" without quotes suggests quality) return. Diminutive Kasey Carrier (373 yards, 3.6 per carry, -6.2 Adj. POE; 5-foot-9, 180 pounds) was perhaps the most effective of the three, but he's not exactly the clear-cut star. James Wright (304 yards, 3.4 per carry, -8.4 Adj. POE, 2 TD; 5-foot-11, 227 pounds) could be a nice change of pace but has a lot to prove.

Of all the major returnees, the player with perhaps the most overall potential, by far, is tight end Lucas Reed (459 yards, 13.9 per catch, 70% catch rate, 5 TD). At 6-foot-6, 232 pounds, he is a long, lean receiving option (and probably a better receiver than blocker); of the Lobos' four primary receivers last year, only Reed averaged more than 8.1 yards per target. He's an intriguing weapon, but he can't catch every pass. It is unclear who will step up at receiver -- Bryant Williams (290 yards, 12.4 per catch, 65% catch rate, 3 TD)? Ohio State transfer Lamaar Thomas? Redshirt freshman Deon Long? Incoming star recruit Daniel Adams, easily the highest-rated member of the incoming class (according to Rivals)? Converted defensive back Emmanuel McPhearson? The potential athleticism here is higher than it has been, but there is almost no proven production outside of Reed.

Other tidbits:

  • In the last five years, just two Missouri quarterbacks have thrown at least 50 passes. Last year alone, due to ineffectiveness and pumpkin-carving incidents, four New Mexico Lobos managed that feat. This week's announcement of Stump Godfrey's departure means only two of the four return: B.R. Holbrook (619 yards, 5.2 per pass, 53% completion rate, 2 TD, 6 INT) and Tarean Austin (398 yards, 4.4 per pass, 49% completion rate, 2 TD, 4 INT as a freshman). Look at those stat lines again. Let's just say that if incoming freshman Dustin Walton is ready to play as a freshman, he might get a good, long look. Austin was a high three-star signee in the Class of 2010, however, so he might have better potential than what he showed when thrown into the fire last fall.
  • Typically when your line struggles to the extent that New Mexico's did last fall, you can blame youth to some degree. And to be sure, they got 18 starts out of redshirt freshmen Dillon Farrell (center) and Darryl Johnson (tackle). But those 18 starts are the only ones the Lobos return; they lose their other three primary starters and a couple of backups. Amazingly, the line could be less experienced and less stable this fall. Yikes.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 115 117 112
RUSHING 117 118 113 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 104 104 100 116
Standard Downs 111 107 112 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 101 112 89 91
Redzone 68 65 72
Q1 Rk 119 1st Down Rk 119
Q2 Rk 86 2nd Down Rk 91
Q3 Rk 109 3rd Down Rk 51
Q4 Rk 69

New defensive coordinator George Barlow has his work cut out for him. Not only does he take the reins of a miserable defense (for which he was defensive backs coach last year), and not only does he have to figure out how to improve a unit that was the fourth-least efficient, ninth-worst at big-play prevention, and fourth-worst against the run ... but he has to account for some late personnel losses as well. Star recruit Calvin Smith, a tackle, recently announced his transfer, while former star Johnathan Rainey (41.0 tackles, 15.5 TFL/sacks in 2009), an end, has been declared permanently ineligible to play after suffering a broken bone in his neck last year. Thanks to the same mix of ineffectiveness and odd injury that impeded the offense's progress, the Lobos threw a TON of different lineups onto the field last year. That's a good thing for the unit's overall experience level, but it's certainly more difficult to find a lineup that works.

Despite the losses of Rainey, Smith, end Seth Johannemann (31.5 tackles, 5.5 TFL/sacks) and tackle Peter Gardner (29.0 tackles, 6.0 TFL/sacks), UNM somehow still returns six linemen who recorded double-digit tackles last year. The best of the bunch are probably tackle Ugo Uzodinma (18.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks) and end Jaymar Latchison (34.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks). Also at tackle, Illinois transfer Reggie Ellis (7.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks) returns for his second season in Albuquerque, while Texas A&M transfer Rod Davis enters the fray as well. Smith and Rainey probably had the highest upside of the bunch, but there is experience here, and as we see above, even with Smith and Rainey playing minor roles, the Lobos' biggest strength was by far the pass rush. If the 300-pound Davis and 270-pound end Omar Castillo (a transfer from Texas Tech) can help them stand up against run blocking, then this unit could improve, at least until the next creative injury.

The linebacking corps probably has the best depth of any unit on the Lobo defense. Carmen Messina (83.5 tackles, 6.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF, 4 PBU) is a second-team all-conference performer, while Spencer Merritt (47.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL/sacks, 7 PBU) and Joe Stoner (46.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 4 FF, 3 FR) have both proven to be solid playmakers. (Of course, looking at the numbers above, they are also pretty good play-allowers.) Throw in Dallas Bollema (28.5 tackles as a redshirt freshman) and Maryland transfer Javarie Johnson, and it's almost a shame that Reaves is moving toward a 4-2-5 scheme and putting only two linebackers on the field.

Other tidbits:

  • VERY relatively speaking, pass defense was a bit of a strength in 2010, a good thing considering every major contributor from last year's secondary returns. Free safety Bubba Forrest (77.0 tackles, 4.5 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU) leads the way, while A.J. Butler (39.0 tackles, 1 PBU in eight games) and three-star JUCO transfer DeShon Marman are expected to fill the other two safety slots. Cornerbacks DeShawn Mills and Anthony Hooks combined for just seven passes defensed, which is a pretty terrible total, but they've combined for 40 starts now and should certainly improve at least a bit more before they're done.
  • Let's just say that this quote from Barlow...
    "I think that’s one of the things that we weren’t doing, along with just not playing as well as we wanted to. I don’t think we were playing with the energy we needed to be a good defense, and I think we’ve accomplished that (this spring), along with getting better with the scheme."
    ...wouldn't fill me with immediate optimism if I were a New Mexico fan. I'm sure energy was a problem (it usually is when you're getting lit up), but it's not the first thing I want to hear my coach addressing.

New Mexico's 2010 Season Set to Music

Radiohead's "How to Disappear Completely," of course.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Largest Negative Three-Year Changes in F/+ (2005-10)
1. 2007-09 Louisville (-36.3%)
2. 2008-10 Kansas (-34.8%)
3. 2007-09 Washington State (-34.0%)
4. 2007-09 Hawaii (-31.0%)
5. 2006-08 Washington State (-30.9%)
6. 2008-10 New Mexico (-26.3%)
7. 2006-08 Michigan (-23.5%)
8. 2006-08 Iowa State (-23.4%)
9. 2007-09 Rutgers (-22.5%)
10. 2007-09 Michigan (-22.2%)

Presumably the only reason UNM isn't higher on this list is because they weren't very good in 2008 either. That they started at a below average position and still managed to lose 26% from their ratings is astounding.

And for fun...

Largest Positive Three-Year Changes in F/+ (2005-10)
1. 2006-08 Ole Miss (+31.7%)
2. 2008-10 Stanford (+29.2%)
3. 2007-09 Alabama (+28.6%)
4. 2006-08 Cincinnati (+27.6%)
5. 2007-09 Stanford (+25.5%)
6. 2008-10 Notre Dame (+24.9%)
7. 2008-10 Boise State (+24.9%)
8. 2008-10 Northern Illinois (+23.6%)
9. 2008-10 Alabama (+22.8%)
10. 2006-08 Buffalo (+22.8%)

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 100
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 103
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -12 / -14.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (7, 9)
Yds/Pt Margin***** +6.2

So how has New Mexico disappeared completely? How have they gone from a program with solid athleticism and a confounding 3-3-5 defense to a team praying that some transfers can lead the way to multiple wins in a single season for the first time since 2008? I always find myself looking for optimism with the teams I write about in this series, and I'm really struggling to do so. This is Washington State-esque, careening-off-a-cliff territory here, and I'm sure how you pull out of such a tailspin.

If there's any sort of encouragement to be found here, it's that Washington State improved at least a bit in 2010 after bottoming out in 2008-09. And really, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the offense might at least stay the same while the defense improves a bit.

Actually, there's another piece of encouragement: the schedule. Four of the most beatable teams on the slate come to Albuquerque: Sam Houston State, New Mexico State, Colorado State and UNLV. Win those four games, and you've doubled your two-year win total. Though that might not be enough to make Lobo fans believe the program is back on track, it would certainly represent tangible improvement.

 

 

---

* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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