Will the University of Utah football team win another game this season? No one knows, but one thing seems fairly certain: If they're going to win again, they'd probably better do it today when they meet the slumping University of New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque.
"This is a winnable game," says Sam Papalii, Utah's associate head coach. "And realistically, this is our best opportunity to get another win."That's because the Utes close out the season the following week with a home game against nationally ranked BYU - a game no one figures they'll win. New Mexico is another matter - and perhaps a last chance for a victory.
After losing four consecutive games - all of them on the road - the Lobos return home today to face the Utes. They have won just two of their 10 games this season, which is about standard procedure for them. They haven't won more than two games in a season since 1986.
As for the Utes, who are 3-6 overall, recent history is on their side. They have won five of their last six meetings with the Lobos. The last five games have been decided by six points or less.
"(The Utes) are finding themselves like we are," says NM coach Mike Sheppard.
"Both teams are in similar situations," says Utah head coach Ron McBride. "We have similar problems."
- Utah will change starting quarterbacks again today, replacing sophomore Jason Woods with junior Mike Richmond; New Mexico will change starting quarterbacks today, replacing junior Jeremy Leach with sophomore Marcus Goodloe, who will be making the first start of his collegiate career.
- Utah has no running game to speak of (75.4 yards per game, 104th nationally); neither does New Mexico (91.7 yards per game, 100th nationally).
- Utah has trouble scoring (18.1 points per game); so does New Mexico (21.8).
- Utah's defense has faded badly down the homestretch of the season, surrendering 118 points and nearly 1,000 yards in its last two games; similarly, New Mexico has allowed 145 points and 1,653 yards in its last three games.
- New Mexico has been routed in its last three outings; Utah has been routed in its last two.
- Utah has one league win - over UTEP; New Mexico has one league win - over UTEP.
"We're not playing as well as we did earlier in the year," says McBride.
That is due at least partly to injuries to key defensive players such as linebacker Anthony Davis (sprained ankle, sprained wrist), linebacker Preston Christensen (knee), defensive end Jimmy Bellamy (chicken pox) and linebacker Pita Tonga (neck). All but Christensen will play Saturday, although who knows how long they'll last.
"We'll play our best playes as long as we can, especially early because in the last two games we got jumped on early," says Papalii. "We need everyone."
"It will help getting three or four people healthy on defense," says McBride. "We've played seven great defensive games and two bad ones."
The Utes have lost eight of their last 10 Western Athletic Conference games. A win today would pull them out of a tie for last place in the WAC.
"The team that wins (today) is the team with the strongest will," says McBride.