Baker able to feed on Nevada defense
Appeal Sports Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Paul Baker’s week was a fairy tale come true.
For most of the season, the 5-foot-7 195-pound Baker played in the shadow of Rodney Ferguson, who led the Lobos in rushing with 1,177 yards and 13 TDs.
Ferguson was declared ineligible Tuesday, and Baker had a chance in the spotlight. He didn’t disappoint.
Baker gained a career-best 167 yards on a career-high 22 carries to spark New Mexico to a 23-0 win over Nevada in the second annual New Mexico Bowl Saturday afternoon at University Stadium.
“I was excited about getting a chance,” Baker said. “I hated to see what happened to Rodney, and I prayed for him.
“I knew I could handle it body wise. It was more mental preparation than anything else. I went from carrying the ball five or six times a game to carrying the load.”
New Mexico coach Rocky Long was pleased, but not surprised, by Baker’s effort. He said Friday that people would see in Baker what the Lobos already knew, and they did.
“Paul is a good running back,” Long said. “He gets the opportunity, steps up and plays well.”
Baker is the polar opposite of Ferguson. He’s a lot shiftier, and relies on his quickness while Ferguson uses his brute strength to get the job done. Baker didn’t think that his running style caught Nevada off guard, though.
“They watch film,” said Baker, alluding to Nevada. “I’m sure they saw enough to know what kind of runner I am. I’m not just an East-West guy. We ran a lot of power stuff tonight.”
Baker helped set up the Lobos’ second touchdown when he caught a 21-yard screen pass from Donovan Porterie, which gave the Lobos a first down at the Nevada 34. The Lobos scored three plays later on a 39-yard pass from Porterie to Travis Brown to finish the first quarter with a 14-0 lead.
Baker continued to gash Nevada in the second quarter. He carried three times for 27 yards on a drive that helped set up John Sullivan’s career-long 53-yard field goal.
He opened the second half with a 37-yard run, but it went for naught when Sullivan’s 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked. He also had a 21-yard run wiped out on a holding penalty, which would have put him near the 200-yard mark on the ground.
“We were preparing for him (Ferguson),” Nevada nose tackle Matt Hines said. “He brought a different element, and we had to adjust to that.”
And, that was something Nevada was unable to do with any success.