New Mexico looks to continue success in bowl game against Arizona
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. >> Playing in the postseason has become something of a habit for Arizona. The same isn't true of New Mexico, but the Lobos are hoping to start a similar trend.
For Arizona (6-6), Saturday's New Mexico Bowl marks the Wildcats' fourth-consecutive bowl appearance under coach Rich Rodriguez in a season that saw the team battling injuries to key players. Star linebacker Scooby Wright, for example, barely played in two games this year due to various injuries.
The New Mexico Bowl appearance comes just a year after Arizona made it to the Pac-12 championship game and eyed a playoff spot. But Rodriguez said he's not fazed by Arizona's record this year and is happy the team is playing in the postseason.
"I came here to build one of the best football programs in the country," Rodriguez said. "We're not there yet."
The Lobos (7-5) are returning to the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade and it comes after years of turmoil in the program. New Mexico coach Bob Davie said earning a bowl appearance was the first step in regaining a "winning culture" at New Mexico.
"We still have a lot of work to do," said Davie, a former coach at Notre Dame who returned to coaching after a 10-year hiatus when he took over at New Mexico. "We can easily return to back if we aren't careful."
Here are some things to watch in Saturday's New Mexico Bowl matchup:
WOLF BITE: The Lobos gained national attention in November by beating Utah State and Boise State in back-to-back close games. After years of losing records, New Mexico was suddenly within striking distance of going to the Mountain West championship but lost to Colorado State next in another close game. Now, New Mexico finds itself in its first bowl game since 2007 and it will be played on its home field.
SCOOBY WILL: Scooby Wright is expected to play on Saturday despite missing most of this season. Rodriguez said Wright could have easily opted not to play but wants in on behalf the Wildcats. Likely not at 100 percent, Wright is needed to help slow down New Mexico's triple-option offense that can break a big play on any drive.
RED ZONE LOBOS: The Lobos have allowed only 30 scores on 44 red zone possessions by opponents this year. The breakup of scoring opportunities has earned New Mexico a 68.2 percent opponent success rate, the fourth-best mark in the nation. New Mexico also has allowed only 18 touchdowns in those 44 red-zone possessions.
FAST CATS: Arizona has had 53 touchdown drives and 28 of those have lasted two minutes of less. That's a result of Rodriguez's trademark high-octane offensive attack that can put points on the board quickly and has been adopted by other programs across the country. Davie even acknowledged Rodriguez's mark and said every offense in the country has a bit of Rodriguez DNA to it. If New Mexico can slow it down, expect a close game.