Hello, good-bye, Tevaka Tuioti? Lobo football starting QB job up in the air

Saturday: Liberty (1-2) at New Mexico (2-1)
Time, location: 4 p.m., Dreamstyle Stadium
TV: None
Radio: KKOB FM (94.5), AM (770)

(Feature photo courtesy of UNM Athletic Communications)

By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports
Assistant Sports Editor

In football, they say you can’t lose your job to injury. But you might lose your job if your return to the practice field is not as crisp since your injury.

University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie said sophomore quarterback Tevaka Tuioti looked more like his normal self in practice Tuesday as he continues to work his way back from the concussion he suffered on Sept. 8 at Wisconsin.

But that hasn’t guaranteed Tuioti a starting spot yet on Saturday when Liberty (1-2) visits Dreamstyle Stadium for an afternoon matchup with the Lobos (2-1).

The Flames, coached by former Nebraska quarterback and Buffalo/Kansas coach Turner Gill, are making their debut as a provisional FBS school in 2018. They become full-time FBS members in 2019.

Davie said during his weekly news conference on Tuesday that Sheriron Jones, who guided the Lobos to their 42-25 win at New Mexico State on Sept. 15, has looked more and more comfortable with the offense, especially with UNM’s bye week last week giving the junior more time in practice with the unit.

“I think it’s probably even right now,” Davie said. “I think Tevaka absolutely improved today. You could tell he was kinda getting back into a rhythm. You know, we’re going to be the same scheme on offense whether it’s Sheriron or Tevaka. We feel like Sheriron has made improvement, where if he does play, we won’t be quite so conservative with him.

“And I think we’ll make the decision here, tomorrow.”

In the five-plus quarters Tuioti has played this season, he has completed 18 of 29 passes for 382 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. He has a passing efficiency rating of 222.72.

Tuioti looked sharp in the passing game in the 62-30 win over Incarnate Word in the season opener and moved the ball early in the game against the nationally ranked Badgers.

Jones, who played the entire game against New Mexico State, and filled in for Tuioti at Wisconsin, has completed 22 of 38 passes for 228 yards with two TDs and three picks. His passer rating is 109.87.

Jones 2018-09-8 110646 nmp01638
PHOTO COURTESY UNM ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS: Lobo quarterback Sheriron Jones (4) has looked sharped during bye-week practice and is competing with Tevaka Tuioti for the starting assignment Saturday vs. Liberty at Dreamstyle Stadium.

After suffering a pick-6 and struggling as UNM fell behind 14-0 early to NMSU, Jones’ play steadily improved the last three quarters of that game.

Davie still stressed, however, that the new spread-option scheme the Lobos are employing in 2018 requires that he stick with one quarterback and has no plans to use both in the same game voluntarily.

“I don’t want to (rotate QBs),” Davie said. “Our offense is such a rhythm offense. In the past with the triple (option) stuff (from past seasons), it was a little different to rotate guys in there. I just feel like this offense with the tempo piece, with the RPOs (run-pass options), man, you have to get into a rhythm.

“And that’s one of the reasons I tweaked our offense this year — was because we had players that never could get into a rhythm unless it was the quarterback or our tailback with what we did in the past when we were triple almost exclusively. It’s about getting everybody on that field in a rhythm, and I think by having the same quarterback out there over and over, you’re able to do that.”

Davie said he is anxious to see his team play after an encouraging week of practice during UNM’s bye week. He said he made this year’s bye week practice more spirited after watching his team come out flat after its bye week last year in a 38-0 loss at Fresno State.

“This (past) week has been invaluable for us to just build on what our core of things are,” he said, referring to the offensive’s budding passing attack.

AT LIBERTY TO SAY BOISE STATE 2.0? Davie compared the Flames program to Boise State during the Broncos’ infancy stages as an FBS school transitioning from FCS.

Liberty is 42-31 and has not suffered a losing season during Gill’s tenure.

The Flames have had 12 straight winning seasons and have won eight Big South Championships during that span.

INJURY UPDATE: Davie confirmed that two key defensive players, senior captain middle linebacker Alex Hart and junior starting defensive end Trent Sellers, both will miss the rest of the season with torn ACLs.

Quarterback Coltin Gerhart still is out with a sprained foot he suffered against Incarnate Word and is a couple weeks away from returning. Wide receiver Q’ Drennan also remains out indefinitely with a dislocated hip.

REAL OR FAKE NEWS REGARDING LOBO MEN’S SOCCER? The most interesting part of Tuesday’s news conference came from UNM men’s soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein’s session, in which ProView Networks’ Marty Watts told Fishbein that New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce did commit to reinstating the program (2018 is scheduled to be the last year before it is one of the four sports UNM is cutting in an attempt to erase its athletic budget deficit).

Watts said Pearce was a guest on The Steve Davis Show last week, but that episode is not yet on ProView Network’s YouTube Channel.

Fishbein said he hadn’t heard about Pearce’s comment. The Albuquerque Journal’s Geoff Grammer told Fishbein that the Journal asked Pearce twice whether he would reinstate the program, but Pearce would not commit to reinstating the program.

Democrat candidate for governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, said last week that, if elected, she will reinstate the sports scheduled to be cut.

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