Steve Virgen, who covers New Mexico for the Albuquerque Journal, weighs in on what Wyoming can expect against the Lobos.

New Mexico stunned Wyoming last year toward the end of the season. What do you remember most about that game?

It was just unexpected, kind of like if a win were to happen this year. Last year was unexpected because the Lobos were on a five-game losing streak and their fourth quarterback. They were competitive in those losses, but it was still a big surprise because of that reason. They’d been losing, they weren’t at home – they were on the road in Las Vegas because of the pandemic and restrictions in Albuquerque – but somehow they found a way. They’re preaching the same thing this week, that they want to go back to fundamentals. It sounds kind of cliché, but it’s something they really believe in because they kind of got out of their element these past few weeks.

Danny Gonzalez got his first career win against the Cowboys last year. This year, he finally gets his first real off-season and a somewhat normal off-season. What’s the biggest thing that’s stood out to you about him?

There’s definitely frustration because of the five losses, and they didn’t expect to be losing this way ... and they weren’t expecting to play this many young guys on the offensive line. But throughout this week, they’ve just been talking about sticking to the plan as far as rebuilding goes, and not getting too frustrated or losing sight of what the main goal is. It’s all about development right now.

It doesn’t mean they’re OK with the losing. They really hate the losing, but the main key right now is developing these young players and recruiting.

It’s a young Lobos team, but one of the veterans that’s really stood out has been Terry Wilson Jr. at quarterback. Both teams have a question mark about who is going to get the first snaps Saturday – Wyoming by its own choice, and New Mexico dealing with some health issues for Wilson.

What’s the outlook if he takes the field, and what’s waiting behind him if he’s not able to go out there?

He seems like he’s pretty close to full health. He was out there in practice a little bit (Thursday). It’s the elbow on his non-throwing arm. There’s still a bit of soreness there. He wanted to play last week, and the coach didn’t let him. It seemed like he was close, but then again, he’s not fully out there in practice yet.

It’s looking like a game-time decision ... they’ve been splitting the reps between two freshmen – true freshman CJ Montes, who got the start last week, and Isaiah Chavez.

A lot of people in Wyoming look at the Cowboys’ recent struggles, then look at New Mexico’s record and assume this is going to be a bounce-back game. But New Mexico ranks second in the Mountain West, holding opponents to around 52% passing. What’s the thing that’s impressed you most on that side of the ball?

Defense seems to get better each week. Even against San Diego State, at that time they were ranked No. 25 in the nation, and they really hung with them – the defense, especially. They had some really bright moments. Linebacker Ray Leutele had a strip scoop-and-score on the running back, and it was a huge play. This defense seems to make big plays each week. In my opinion, their strength is stopping the run, but they have got better against the pass.

Wyoming is a 20-point favorite entering the game, but I think it’ll be closer than that. What are your thoughts?

I’d be surprised to see the game go away like that, but I also said the same thing last week. I think Wyoming is definitely capable of being dominant in a game like this, especially with New Mexico having so many young players. They’re developing so many players, and Wyoming has already shown earlier in the season that they’re a very strong team.

They’re hungry and they’re playing at home, so I could see them being dominant. But I expect a close game, because you see a New Mexico defense that’s getting stronger every week.

They need the offense to make some plays at least, and I think a change in the game plan as far as offense goes is going to be very beneficial for the Lobos.

Overall, I expect a closer game.

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.

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