History repeats itself.
The only question surrounding the Rams’ football game against the New Mexico Lobos this Saturday is: Which history will that be?
Last year the Rams rallied to a 35-25 win over the Lobos after trailing 25-12 at the half. In 2004, then-freshman quarterback Caleb Hanie, in for the injured Justin Holland, completed 20 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but the ground game was held to 35 yards on 34 carries in a 26-17 loss.
Now, which sounds like the Rams this year?
In order for CSU (4-3, 1-2 MWC) to claim a much-needed victory this weekend, the ground game has to emerge. The Rams were good enough in the air to win early in the season with no running game, but teams have started to figure them out.
That’s why during practice this week the Rams were trying different methods of moving the ball on the ground, including anything from handing the ball off to receiver Damon Morton to having Johnny Walker take the snap directly.
“I don’t know if you’ll see that in the game but we’ve been working on little things like that,” said Hanie. “We’re trying to get more of a running game, working some guys in use different formations.”
The ground game hasn’t been the only concern for the Rams, who have been outscored 45-0 in the last six quarters they’ve played. Hanie has thrown four interceptions in that span, more than he threw in the five previous games combined. The defense, hurt by injuries to safety Mike Pagnotta and defensive end Jesse Nading, has looked tired and has forced a league low seven turnovers.
“When you win two or three in a row you start thinking you’re pretty good,” said Head Coach Sonny Lubick. “Then you lose two or three and you’re confidence starts to waver.
That’s just human nature though. We should be questioning some things. It’s nothing a couple healthy guys and victories can’t change around.”
Despite being the more talented team and having the crowd on their side, the slumping Rams won’t find an easy win against the Lobos, who are coming off two consecutive wins in which they had to rally from double-digit deficits.
Freshman quarterback Donovan Porterie proved his worth with a 350-yard, three-touchdown performance last week against Utah. Replacing the injured Kole McKarney and the ineffective Chris Nelson, Porterie’s most impressive feat may have been the way he conducted himself in a 78-yard, game-winning drive down the field late in the fourth quarter.
With a rushing game not much better than the Rams’ – the Lobos average 93.5 yards per game compared to CSU’s 80 – the Lobos have proven they can still put up points, with 73 total in their last two games.
“They’re a solid team – they come at you with a big package,” said linebacker Jeff Horinek. “They have a ton of plays they throw at you, it’s a different one every down.”
More bad news for the Rams is that while they have to like where the game is being played, UNM probably does too. The Lobos have the 13th best road record in the nation since 2003.
Still, after two brutal away games, the Rams are happy to be playing at Hughes, where their defense has been strong and their offense has made big plays.
“Everyone’s questioning when it’s going to come back around for us,” said Hanie. “We’re just going to call the plays as usual and not force anything, but not shy away from anything either. We have to take what they give us and the big plays will come.”
With the season possibly on the line Saturday, they better come sooner than later.
Football beat writer Brett Okamoto can be reached at email@example.com.