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September 11, 2009

Preview: Tulsa at New Mexico

Tulsa looks to begin the season 2-0, as it travels to take on New Mexico, a team that was hammered in its opener, 41-6, by Texas A&M.

The Lobos have a new coach in Mike Locksley, who was previously the coordinator of Illinois' high-scoring offenses. However, New Mexico couldn't get the ball into the end zone in Locksley's debut, and they have a long way to go as they make the switch to the spread offense.

It was the same old story for Tulsa, as they replaced their starting quarterback once again and came out on top, defeating Tulane, 37-13. Now the Golden Hurricane will look to build on that performance with in-state rival Oklahoma on deck.

When New Mexico has the Ball

The Lobos are changing offensive systems under Locksley, and it showed in their opener as they managed just six points and 231 total yards against Texas A&M.

The key to New Mexico's new spread offense is quarterback Donovan Porterie. Porterie has run hot and cold during his four-year career in Albuquerque. Last week, Porterie was an efficient 29-of-40 but for only 210 yards and he was sacked five times.

The Lobos have one of college football's best centers in Eric Cook, but overall, the offensive line was overmatched by Texas A&M's defensive front. New Mexico managed just 21 yards rushing, and Porterie was running for his life most of the afternoon.

If New Mexico is going to get its spread offense off the ground this week against a Tulsa defense that looked much improved versus Tulane, running backs Desmond Dennis and A.J. Butler must get going.

Dennis is the real X-factor because he is one of the few playmakers, other than Porterie, on the Lobos offense.

Tulane had some success throwing the ball on Tulsa last week, and when Porterie goes to the air, he will be looking for receivers Daryl Jones, Roland Bruno and Ty Kirk.

Like Tulsa, the Lobos operate out of a three-wide set a majority of the time, so the New Mexico receivers are also used on sweeps and reverses to get the ball into their hands.

Locksley's offense also likes to throw the ball to the running backs. He did that a lot at Illinois, and in New Mexico's first game, Dennis and Butler combined for nine receptions.

This is still a work in progress under Locksley. Last season, the Lobos were a power running team, and now they are making the switch to a finesse speed option team and the growing pains were evident in their first game. The Lobos better hope they improved quite a bit since then.

When Tulsa has the Ball

This could be a long night for New Mexico's defense. Last week, the Lobos allowed 41 points and 606 yards to Texas A&M. This is the same Aggies squad that ranked 114th in running the football last season and piled up 245 yards on the Lobos defense.

Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson torched New Mexico for 349 yards and two touchdowns. The Lobos often looked confused on defense, and much like they are on offense, New Mexico is switching systems on this side of the ball from a 3-3-5 system to a more conventional 4-3 scheme.

It may not get any easier this week against Tulsa and G.J. Kinne. Kinne had an impressive debut for the Golden Hurricane, racking up 288 total yards and accounting for two scores.

Look for Todd Graham to get his receivers more involved this week now that Kinne has a start under his belt. New Mexico is inexperienced at cornerback, and both Anthony Hooks and freshman DeShawn Mills struggled last week.

Damaris Johnson had a strong opening game against Tulane, doing a little bit of everything, while Slick Shelley led the team with five receptions. After a somewhat quiet first week, Johnson, Shelley and Trae Johnson should have their way with a young, thin New Mexico defensive backfield.

After seeing what Texas A&M did against the Lobos last week, Charles Clay and Jamad Williams must be licking their chops after finding running lanes tough to come by last week.

New Mexico's defensive front was pushed all over the field by the Aggies, so expect the Tulsa ground game to get cranking. Also, look for more of Charles Opeseyitan this week.

The biggest thing to watch in this game is the offensive line. Following a poor performance against Tulane, the O-line should have a big bounce back effort against an undermanned Lobos front seven.

If Tulsa's offensive line struggles again against this bunch, it might be time to worry, especially with the likes of Oklahoma and Boise State on deck.

This should be pick your poison time for Graham and the Golden Hurricane. New Mexico showed no signs of being able to stop anything Texas A&M threw at them, and to be honest, Tulsa has better skill players than the Aggies do, particularly at receiver.

If Kinne gets rolling, this offense will look more like what Tulsa fans have grown accustomed to seeing.

Special Teams

Tulsa is coming off an almost perfect special teams performance. Kicker Kevin Fitzpatrick was a perfect 3-of-3 on field goal attempts, punter Michael Such was his usual steady self, the coverage units were outstanding and then there was Damaris Johnson.

Johnson put Tulane away with a 66-yard punt return that showed just how dangerous the speedy sophomore is every time he gets his hands on the football.

If there was one bright spot for New Mexico last week, it was standout kicker James Aho. The sophomore accounted for all of the Lobos scoring, hitting on field goals of 19 and 48 yards. The 48-yarder tied a career high for Aho.

Punter Adam Miller is another good one, and if last week was any indicator, he'll have plenty of opportunities to show off his skills this season. The Lobos return game is average at best.

Bottom Line

This is a total mismatch no matter how you look at it. It's college football and anything can happen. Upsets occur all the time, but on paper, Tulsa should win this game easily.

Locksley is an innovative offensive coach, and given time, he will probably turn things around at New Mexico. However, right now the Lobos are stuck in a transition period and were one of the least impressive teams from Week 1.

Now that Kinne has a game under his belt, look for the TU offense to open up a little more, assuming the line plays better and gives him time in the pocket. Also, look for the running game to have a better night. Tulsa ran for 201 yards against Tulane but 78 of those yards came from Kinne. The running backs will have a bigger impact in this game.

Tulsa's defense played good for the most part last week, and that should continue against a Lobos offense still searching for an identity. Porterie can get hot, but this unit looked completely inept last week, so it's doubtful they will have enough to keep up with Tulsa's offense in this game.

It looks like a 2-0 start for the Golden Hurricane before a trip to Norman to take on an injury-riddled Oklahoma squad.

2009 InsideTulsaSports.com. All Rights Reserved.

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