Matsakis: Bobcats a practice session for New Mexico

Updated: August 28, 2003, 4:06 AM ET

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Texas State first-year coach Manny Matsakis had a great time when he was in Albuquerque last September. He's expecting the worst on his return Saturday.

Matsakis was on the Texas Tech staff a year ago when the Red Raiders pounded New Mexico 49-0 on national television. New Mexico recovered from that humbling loss, went on to finish second behind Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference, and played UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Now Matsakis is trying to turn around Texas State's struggling program -- the Bobcats were 4-7 last season -- that's opening the season against a New Mexico team that is loaded with talent and expected to again contend for the MWC title.

"This is a breakout year for them (Lobos)," says Matsakis. "I understand the purpose of the game for New Mexico. It's to warm up for Lubbock and try for redemption for last year."

New Mexico plays Texas Tech next week in Lubbock, but coach Rocky Long says the Lobos have enough to worry about trying to figure out what Texas State will run on both sides of the line Saturday.

"They have 11 new division one transfers, they have 30 new players," Long said. "With all the transfers, we don't know what their talent level is."

Coaches typically talk about unknown factors in season openers, but Long said the Bobcats may be a little more complicated than most teams.

"They have a coach that came from Texas Tech but was the head coach at Emporia State and was the offensive coordinator at Wyoming in '99," Long said this week. "We've been watching Texas Tech film and Wyoming film from 1999 and all of those things are different. So we don't know what we're going to get from them on offense. Then there's the rumor that they're playing our defense."

Long leaves no doubt about what the Bobcats can expect from New Mexico, especially on defense. The Lobos love to blitz and do it so well that they've led the Mountain West in sacks the last three years.

"We're going to run the ball and we're going to play-action pass and on defense we're going to blitz the hell out them," said Long. "Hopefully, we're good enough that we can figure out after the first quarter what they're doing ... and we're a veteran enough team to make adjustments."

Among the new players for the Bobcats are defensive backs Damien Chandler, Johnny McCoy and Bobby Hart. All came from Big 12 schools -- Chandler from Texas Tech, McCoy from Kansas and Hart from Baylor.

Barrick Nealy, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound quarterback, takes over the offense after transferring to San Marcos from the University of Houston.

Still, Matsakis doesn't think his team will be able to stay with New Mexico.

"I don't have the firepower we had with the Red Raiders," Matsakis said. "I don't have Kliff Kingsbury."

Kingsbury, the former Red Raiders' star quarterback, threw six touchdown passes against New Mexico last year while completing 41 of 59 passes for 407 yards.

New Mexico, which relied heavily on its running game last season, expects to have a much improved passing game. That was the emphasis in fall practices and Long said the results have been good.

"The biggest improvement we made in fall camp was throwing the ball deeper and catching it better," he said.

Long and the Lobos are itching to find out if the receivers can catch as well in a game as they have in practice and say if the Bobcats have copied New Mexico's blitz-happy defense, they'll be ready.

"If they're a blitz team playing man coverage, the ball will be going up early and often," Long said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index