Saturday: New Mexico at Utah State
Time: 2 p.m.
Location: Maverik Stadium, Logan, Utah
TV: Facebook Live
Radio: KKOB 94.5 FM, 770 AM
Line: Utah State favored by 20 1/2
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
The University of New Mexico football team is in the middle of its murderer’s row schedule, having lost to Fresno State (6-1, 3-0 Mountain West) last week, facing Utah State (6-1, 3-0) on Saturday on the road and then coming home to San Diego State (6-1, 3-0) next week at Dreamstyle Stadium.
To get a read on the rest of UNM’s season, the team has to rely on its quarterback’s reading comprehension on the field.
For the Lobos (3-4, 1-1) to have any hopes of becoming bowl-eligible, they have to steal one of the next two games, or the Nov. 16 home game against Boise State (5-2, 3-1), in addition to sweeping Air Force (3-4, 1-3) and Wyoming (2-6, 0-4).
With the defense appearing to play a little better than its early-season form (with the exception of a pass rush that still has not been evident against UNM’s better foes), the offense remains a work in progress under junior starter Sheriron Jones.
The transfer our of Tennessee already has 13 touchdown passes on the season, ranking him 11th for a single season all-time at UNM. He’s completing 56.7 percent of his passes and has 1,087 yards on the season with seven interceptions to go with his TD tosses.
Coach Bob Davie has been clear that Jones is progressing with offensive coordinator Calvin Magee’s scheme, but that progress isn’t as swift as Davie would like.
Jones completed 15 of 32 passes for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the 38-7 loss to the Bulldogs last weekend. Davie said he did see some encouraging signs from Jones after watching video from the game.
“It was better against Fresno from a read standpoint, a lot of that is with the run game. It was a little cleaner,” Davie said of Jones’ decision-making against the Bulldogs compared to his reads the prior game at Colorado State. “He did miss two deep throws for sure (on Saturday). He did throw the interception. He makes a great play on the scramble; he’s got all kinds of adrenaline and he throws the ball in the air.
“He knew right away (that was going to draw a flag from the officials for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty). The very next play, he throws the interception.”
Davie also pointed to an instance in which Jones probably should’ve drawn another flag for intentional grounding but didn’t. And on the first offensive pass interference penalty on Delane Hart-Johnson, the coach said Elijah Lilly was the primary target as the inside receiver and, “there was no one within 15 or 20 yards of Lilly.”
Jones’ limited practice time with the new Lobo offense is well-documented. He arrived on campus in the summer after transferring from Mount San Jacinto College (Calif.) after spending two years at Tennessee.
Then Jones missed a large portion of fall camp because of a hamstring strain. He was thrown into the fire because backup Coltin Gerhart sprained his foot in the opener against Incarnate Word and has yet to return and starter Tevaka Tuioti first suffered a concussion against Wisconsin and then broke the clavicle on his throwing shoulder against Liberty.
Gerhart still is a week away from returning, maybe two, Davie said. Tuioti is out for the season. The next quarterback in line is true freshman Trae Hall, whom the Lobos are trying to redshirt.
So it’s Jones’ time to show the coaching staff whether he can be the quarterback it needs him to be.
“As we progress, we’ll know more as Sheriron matures if he has the ability to truly go through the reads as he gets more reps,” Davie said, “because right now, he does make up his mind a little bit prematurely where he’s going (with the ball).
“Is that the result of not having enough reps, not playing enough — because he’s still young as far as playing — or is it going to be (that) he’s not able to mature through the reads to be able to see it all. That’s what it always comes down to the quarterback. — are you able to see it all and go through your progressions?”
The good news for Jones is that his improvement came against the No. 1 defense in the Mountain West.
The bad news is Utah State is not far behind Fresno State, defensively.
The Aggies’ pass defense is No. 2 in the league behind the Bulldogs. USU gives up 193.3 passing yards per game, just 20 more yards than FS. The Aggies also are No. 3 in the conference in scoring at 22.7 points allowed per game.
That said, Davie pointed out that Jones has all the physical attributes to rise up to the challenge, and he lauds Jones’ competitive spirit.
“He has ability,” Davie said. “I love the way he plays. He brings it, now; he does. He’s physical; he loves the game. But we always know the intangible things are what makes the difference at that position.”
And possibly the Lobos’ 2018 season.
EXPECTING TWINS: Lobo starting weakside linebacker Sitivena Tamaivena may see a familiar face across the field on Saturday. A very familiar face.
Sitivena’s twin brother, Suli, is an inside linebacker for the Aggies. Sitivena does have a pound over Suli. Sitivena is listed at 6-foot, 231 pounds. Suli is “only” 6-foot, 230 pounds.
During his Monday news conference, Wells said their style of play also bears a resemblance.
“Sitiveni is a really good productive linebacker,” Wells said. “Not only is he an identical twin, but he plays very similar to Suli. He likes to get up and blitz and pop in the same A-gaps. He’s active all over the place. You can see a lot of Suli in him. They’re brothers and all of that, but they play very similar.”
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 enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.