Saturday: Incarnate Word at New Mexico
Time, Location: 6 p.m., Dreamstyle Stadium
TV: ESPN3 Streaming
Radio: KKOB-AM (770), KKOB-FM 94.5
By Greg Archuleta
Bob Davie is a big fan of momentum.
The seventh-year University of New Mexico head coach spoke of it during his initial 2018 season news conference on Tuesday to preview the upcoming opener against Football Championship Subdivision foe the University of the Incarnate Word on Saturday night at Dreamstyle Stadium.
It’s a reason Davie says he prefers to start against lesser-heralded schools such as Incarnate Word.
“I like to schedule just like we’ve scheduled,” Davie said. “Getting off to a good start in college football is very important. And if you looked at our schedules over the last several years — Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian, Mississippi Valley State — I think that’s what most people will do. And if people can control the schedule, that’s what they would do.”
It’s why UNM has scheduled openers against four FCS teams during Davie’s previous six years at UNM. Add Southern in 2012 to the list Davie included in his remarks, and the Lobos are 4-0 against those schools in the season openers, outscoring those opponents by a combined 218-56 (for an average score of 54.5-14).
The other two seasons, UNM has opened against Football Bowl Subdivision schools against UTSA and UTEP in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
The record in those games? 0-2.
Davie is looking to regain the momentum the program lost in 2017 after finishing the 2016 season with a 9-4 record, having won six of its last seven games with a New Mexico Bowl victory over UTSA to complete the run.
Last year’s Lobos started off 3-2, only to lose their last seven games.
“We have a chance to get some momentum — for ourselves, and hopefully for our athletic department and hopefully for our university,” Davie said. “Momentum is hard to get. We fought our tails off to get momentum … a year ago we had great momentum. Well, we lost that momentum. We have to go get it back.
“I know a lot of other people are looking at us as it would be very unexpected if we jump up and got back to where we were two years ago. But that’s what makes it fun — to have the opportunity to do something that not a lot of people think you can do.”
On paper, the Cardinals seem like the ideal opponent from which the Lobos can start to build a successful season. They are coming off a 1-11 season in 2017 and feature a new head coach in Eric Morris.
Morris was Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator the least five seasons and also spent time with Houston and Washington State. New defensive coordinator Justin Deacon helped Texas A&M-Kingsville to a Division II national championship in 2017.
“They’re dangerous,” Davie said.
But the Cardinals are taking a back seat to UNM’s main focus on Saturday night: itself.
“We all feel an urgency to gain back momentum,” Davie said. “The great thing about sports is it does have the potential to bring people together. It moves the needle. We got close to getting it over the hump, but we didn’t get it over the hump and we fell backward. And now we’ve got to get it back.
“All that work we’ve put into this, I’m not going to let just go away. There’s too much investment by too many people to let it go out the window.”
When asked whether he felt pressure to win in the face of the offseason issues with the athletic department and calls for the Lobos to eliminate football, Davie became defensive of his team.
“We’ve done more with less in this program than anybody,” he said. “I’ve just never chosen to go public with it because I don’t want our players having a safety net; I don’t want our coaches having a safety net. I don’t want any excuses. What we’ve done here with the budget we’ve had is incredible. I’m very proud of that.
“If anybody at all thinks the narrative that football does less than more, they’re absolutely mistaken.”
But in figuring out how to reverse the fortunes of 2017, Davie also understands he has little room for error.
NO RESTRICTIONS ON TUIOTI: Sophomore quarterback Tevaka Tuioti, whom Davie named as the opening day starter vs. Incarnate Word, will have free rein to “let him rip” on offense,” the head coach said.
“The reason he won the job, one of the things is because he does create plays,” Davie said of Tuioti. “He does a great job of avoiding the rush. He looks to throw instead of run. He’s a playmaker; we’re going to cut him loose.”
A BREAK IN THIS ROUTINE: The Lobos no longer will stay at a hotel on the night before home games, which Davie admitted is somewhat unsettling. But lacking a controlled environment for the players will show Davie the maturity of his team.
“There is a little bit of a leadership conversation we’ve had with our team, particularly in a city like Albuquerque, New Mexico, that’s a pretty big city,” he said. “There are a lot of dynamics going on here; there are a lot of things going on. Friday night’s a little bit of a concern with me, “115 players staying where they say every night. But it’s about leadership. If we don’t have the kind of leadership on the team, if guys don’t respond in a positive way to that leadership, all that doesn’t mean a lot.
“When that ball kicks off, none of it is going to matter, as long as we handle it.”
INJURY UPDATE: Davie said junior defensive end Trent Sellers, a transfer who originally signed with Georgia Tech out of high school and was a projected starter, will be out for the season with a knee injury.
Freshman wide receiver Reece Wilkinson, a walk-on from La Cueva High School, also will miss the season with a knee injury.
Junior running back Javohn Jones also will miss the opener due to a sprained foot.
Senior kickoff specialist Danny Sutton has an illness that will keep him out of the opener. Davie said freshmen Dylan Kelly-Romero or Stephen Ruiz will handle kickoff duties vs. the Cardinals.
Davie added that junior safety A.J. Greeley will return in about a week, as will freshman running back L.O. Johnson.