After failing a week earlier, the Utah State football team gets another shot at a Western Athletic Conference opponent tonight when it takes on New Mexico at 6 p.m. (MDT) at University Stadium.
Not only will they be trying to improve on last week's 20-12 defeat to Utah, the Aggies will be hoping to make up for last year's 25-22 loss to the Lobos in Logan, when they blew a five-point lead in the final minutes.In last week's loss to the Utes, coach Dave Arslanian was pleased with his team's defensive effort and special teams play but unhappy with the offense. In fact Arslanian almost seemed embarrassed by it, saying, "I was surprised and disappointed by our lack of offensive production."
Arslanian was trying not to make things too difficult for quarterback Riley Jensen in his major-college debut, especially against an experienced defense like Utah's. However, he's expected to open things up this week and be more offense-oriented like his teams are known for.
"We had to do some things on offense last week that in some ways were contrary to my philosophy," he said. "I'm usually wide open, but we were pretty conservative last week."
The New Mexico defense is young, with only two starters returning from last year's WAC Mountain Division champions. None of the linebackers or defensive backs started last year, so the Aggies may try to exploit the inexperience by going to the air. They also won't forget to use running back Demario Brown, who rushed for 124 yards against the Lobos last year.
The Lobos do have an experienced player in safety Brian Urlacher, who despite not starting a game last year, was second on the team in tackles with 102.
"The New Mexico defense does some things differently, very unique," said Arslanian. "The defensive players seldom line up in the same place. They're all over the place."
"We try to attack, blitz and stunt and try to take away what an offense does best," said UNM coach Rocky Long, who like Arslanian, is in his first year at his school.
The Lobos' strength comes on the offensive side of the football, where quarterback Graham Leigh, running backs Lennox Gordon, Dion Marion and Reginal Johnson all return from last year.
In last week's opening win over Idaho State, Leigh completed 18 of 26 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 79 yards. Gordon rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown, while Johnson added a touchdown.
"It looks like Utah State will be one of the biggest and strongest teams we'll face all year. Both of their lines are huge," said Long. "Demario Brown is projected to be a high draft pick next year, and from what I've seen, I can see why. He's impressive."
UNM officials are hoping for close to a sellout in the 30,000-seat stadium.