By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
The University of New Mexico football team ended its seven-game losing streak from 2017 in impressive fashion with a 62-30 pounding of the University of the Incarnate Word on Saturday night at Dreamstyle Stadium.
It was a near record-setting night for the Lobo offense, which amassed 684 yards of total offense, just 7 yards shy of the school record of 691 in 1989. UNM lost that game to Utah 41-39; a much happier ending took place Saturday night, albeit against an overmatched Football Championship Subdivision foe.
Here are five takeaways from the Lobos’ season-opening win:
1. Tevaka Tuioti is the best passing quarterback the Lobos have had during Bob Davie’s tenure.
Tuioti, a sophomore, looked impressive in his debut with the spread option, throwing for 327 yards and four touchdowns. The Lobos hadn’t had a 300-yard passer since B.R. Holbrook against Texas Tech in 2010. They didn’t have a quarterback throw for four TDs since Graham Leigh vs. Utah State in 1998.
Tuioti hit several players in stride on throws downfield. He also showed adequate running skills, even turning positive yardage on busted plays. The real test will come next week against No. 4 Wisconsin.
Tuioti did throw an interception after UIW cut UNM’s 21-point lead to 28-16 with a minute left in the half before the defense stepped up and forced a fumble with 15 seconds left in the half.
Tuioti responded with a 51-yard TD pass to Elijah Lilly that gave the home team some breathing room at the half with a 35-16 lead.
The sophomore QB also fumbled inside the UIW 5 to end another Lobo first-half threat to score, so he has things to clean up.
2. It’s hard to fault the running game after a 319-yard performance, but …
The Lobos’ running backs combined for only 84 rushing yards in the first half. Tuioti and Elijah Lilly made the rushing stats look better, but UNM certainly didn’t look overpowering at the line of scrimmage against the Cardinals.
Give UNM credit for wearing down UIW in the second half.
Zahneer Shuler has the potential to be a tough inside runner in making the transition from tight end. He may be able to steal a few carries away from Owens.
But the Lobos didn’t show a breakaway runner in the backfield against the Cardinals.
3. Ahmari Davis was UNM’s best RB in Game 1
The junior college transfer Laney College finished with 40 yards on seven carries and showed a good burst throw a couple of holes for gains of 11 and 15 yards in the second quarter.
UIW’s defense did seem to key on Owens when he was in the backfield, but Davis gave glimpses that he could be a big-play producer out of the backfield that the offense lacked last season.
At the very least, his presence should keep defenses from keying on Tuioti. And that could help Tuioti become more dangerous in the run-pass option.
4. The defense needs work.
The Cardinals marched 75 yards on 13 plays on their opening possession for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. The UNM defense seemed a step slow on the first drive.
As the offense responded with four straight touchdowns, the defense then had more trouble containing the UIW offense. The Cardinals finished with an eye-popping 391 total yards in the first half.
Ra’Quanne Dickens burst for a 90-yard run to cut UNM’s second-quarter lead to 28-13.
On UIW’s next possession, quarterback Jon Copeland completed passes of 39, 27 and 6 yards as he moved the Cardinals 85 yards. Coach Eric Morris played it conservatively on fourth-and-2 at the UNM 11, opting for a field goal to cut the Lobo lead to 28-16 with 1:01 left.
The defense did respond to some adversity when the Lobos turned the ball over on the ensuing possession. The UNM defense responded when cornerback Willie hobby forced a fumble from Incarnate Word wide receiver Patrick Baptiste at midfield with 15 seconds left in the half.
The takeaway was part of a huge momentum shift at the half as Tuioti’s deep ball to Lilly turned a game that potentially could’ve been a five- or nine-point Lobo lead at the half to 19 at 35.16.
High Noon Restaurant & Saloon is proud to support the Lobos and Enchantment Sports
5. The community is still not invested
Saturday night’s season-opener attendance was 18,213, the lowest in coach Bob Davie’s seven-year tenure at UNM. His debut at UNM in 2012 featured his best season-opener attendance at 28,450.
Despite Davie’s insistence that a successful football program can rally the community, a disconnect appears evident between the program and the city.
Part of the problem could have been the lack of a recognizable opponent for the opener. FCS school Incarnate Word has been playing football only since 2009 and was 1-10 last season.
The weather could’ve been a factor as it was a rainy Saturday, although there was little rain by game time.
The UNM marketing department has its work cut out. UNM doesn’t keep stats in season openers, but it’s a safe bet to say the school has not had a lower-attended opener since at least the Mike Sheppard era from 1987-91 when the program went 9-50 during that span.
Barring an upset of Wisconsin next week and/or a convincing win at New Mexico State on Sept. 15, the Lobos will be hard-pressed to get much more of a crowd for their next home game on Sept. 29 against Liberty.
Greg Archuleta is the assistant editor at Enchantment Sports. You can reach him at greg.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.