(Feature photo courtesy of golobos.com)
By Greg Archuleta
Assistant Sports Editor
Under-rated, Under-rated (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)?
It would be easy for University of New Mexico football fans to chant that the fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers were overrated after their 45-14 win over the Lobos on Saturday.
But I never understood those chants in the first place because it diminishes what the underdog team accomplished.
The Lobos (1-1), a 35-point underdog, were underrated on Saturday, pushing Wisconsin (2-0) for 2 1/2 quarters and playing without starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti for roughly three quarters because of what coach Bob Davie described as a head injury.
UNM had the ball inside the Badgers 25-yard line trailing 10-7 midway though the third quarter and were threatening to take the lead back, or at least tie it. But an ill-advised throw by third-string QB Sheriron Jones ended hopes of any possible upset. The momentum turned, and never turned back.
Still, that should count as a moral victory … if the Lobos use it the right way. Here are five takeaways from UNM’s Week 2:
1. Wisconsin did not and does not respect the Lobos.
During his weekly Tuesday news conference, Badgers coach Paul Chryst did not field one question about UNM. He was asked Thursday about the Lobo offense transitioning from the triple-option to the spread-option, and he said UNM looked as if it was an experienced spread-option team.
Wisconsin’s defense then came out with little urgency as the Lobos embarked on a beautiful 17-play, 87-yard opening-possession drive for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead that ate up 7 minutes, 38 seconds of clock.
And finally, the Badgers scored a meaningless touchdown — on a pass, no less — with 22 seconds left to make a cosmetic improvement on what should’ve been a 38-14 final. Wisconsin had no business running a play at that point in the game.
The Badgers did not recognize the Lobos before or during the game.
But running up the score against a non-Power 5 Conference team makes the Badgers and their fans sleep better, I guess.
2. During the offseason, the Lobos have to prepare at least three quarterbacks to play.
Davie said before the season he didn’t want to rotate QBs, and who could blame him? Tuioti looks to be a star in the making and theoretically should be taking all the snaps.
He was on fire to start the game, and who knows what would’ve happened if he didn’t get hurt.
But Tuioti did get hurt, likely during an option pitch early in the second quarter. Jones, the third-string QB, was forced to enter and had two key turnovers while the Lobos were still in the game.
With UNM trailing 10-7 and in field-goal range on third down, Jones forced a throw that the Badgers picked off to end the threat. From there, Wisconsin scored three quick TDs to take a 31-7 lead moments into the fourth quarter.
If the Lobos are going to employ an offensive scheme that relies on QB runs or an option, they’re going to have to get multiple QBs ready in the offseason and use them all extensively in non-conference play.
Davie has been forced to use multiple QBs in each of his seven seasons at UNM and already is on his third signal-caller two games into 2018. Backup Coltin Gerhart was unavailable for Week 2 after spraining his foot in his only series vs. Incarnate Word last week.
The team has to figure out a way to get several quarterbacks game-ready and use them during the early part of the season. That way, the Lobos won’t suffer significantly if they have to make a change at QB late in the season.
3. UNM has to run the football to protect its QBs.
The Lobos struggled in the rushing attack in the first half last week against Football Championship Subdivision foe Incarnate Word before wearing down the Cardinals. On Saturday, UNM ended up with 77 yards rushing against Wisconsin.
Because the Lobos now are running a more conventional offense — mostly, that is — opponents will be planning on how to slow their passing attack.
For six years, rushing has been UNM’s bread and butter, and it still should be the primary part of the attack.
And offensive coordinator Calvin Magee deserves a lot of credit for mixing up both the spread- and triple-option plays early vs. Wisconsin to keep the defense off-balance.
If UNM can get Tyrone Owens, Zahneer Shuler, Ahmari Davis and Daemvon Vigilant to run between the tackles with success, the less it has to expose its quarterbacks to hits from the defense.
Owens is averaging 3.5 yards per carry (125 yards on 33 attempts) so far this season — a far cry from 2016 when he was fourth in the nation with 8.0 yards per attempt. The Lobos have to improve gaining ground up the gut to have a chance to compete in Mountain West play.
4. Jonathan Taylor’s 253 rushing yards is a compliment to UNM.
Odds are that the Badgers weren’t planning on using Heisman Trophy candidate Taylor for four quarters, but as long as they had to, they might as well have gotten him as many yards as they could (see Take Away No. 1 — no respect).
The Lobo defense has some work ahead after giving up 417 yards rushing Saturday, but it did make plays to keep the team in the game until midway through the third quarter.
It won’t matter how many yards opposing offenses get if the UNM defense can create takeaways as it did during its 2015 season when it forced 25 turnovers.
That’s why you saw Wisconsin amass 568 total yards. Because the Badgers felt they had to. That’s a win for the UNM defense.
5. There’s no such thing as a moral victory, but. …
Davie said in his postgame interview with KKOB-AM’s DonTrell Moore that the Lobos were leaving Camp Randall Stadium disappointed “but in a good place.”
“I’d like to think we improved,” Davie said, referencing his team’s season-opening performance against Incarnate Word, a 62-30 UNM win.
The Lobos certainly weren’t embarrassed like they were last season at Texas A&M when they trailed 48-7 at the half.
They’ve set the bar for themselves that with a little more confidence — and a little less injury — they can compete in the Mountain West.
However, Utah State took Michigan State to the wire last week. UNLV played USC tough for a half last week as well.
UNM needs to take its performance vs. the Badgers as motivation to show the same week-to-week improvement as it did from last Saturday to this Saturday to put itself in position to have a successful 2018.
New Mexico showed it can stand toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country for most of the day. It won’t see any team with more talent the rest of the season. UNM should regroup and relish the opportunities ahead at in-state rival New Mexico State and at home against Liberty the next two weeks.
Lobo fans can be satisfied that the Lobos acquitted themselves nicely on Saturday vs. the No. 5 team in the country.
The Lobos themselves better be anything but satisfied.
(Click here for UNM’s story and stats on the game.)
Greg Archuleta is the assistant editor at Enchantment Sports. He was the New Mexico Lobo football beat writer for the Albuquerque Journal for 12 years and worked as a professional journalist for more than two decades. You can reach him at greg.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.