(Feature photo courtesy UNM Athletic Communications)
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
When the University of New Mexico football team defeated UTSA 23-20 in the 2016 New Mexico Bowl to cap a 9-4 season, coach Bob Davie officially shut the door on the nightmarish Mike Locksley era.
On Saturday, that door re-opened.
Utah State’s Jordan Love threw for a career-high 449 yards — the ninth-best total in Aggies history — all in the first half to open up a 52-5 halftime lead. USU (7-1, 4-0 Mountain West) cruised to a 61-19 victory over the Lobos (3-5, 1-2) on Saturday.
The first half was eerily reminiscent of UNM’s 59-0 halftime deficit to Oregon in 2010 under Locksley. Utah State pushed the lead to 55-5 after its first drive in the second half.
“They were significantly better than us,” Davie said in his postgame interview with KKOB Radio. “Their offense was better than us. At times, we looked like we couldn’t tackle them, it looked like we couldn’t cover them. It was just a mismatch; it really was.”
“They just looked so much more explosive and faster and athletic than us. It’s frightening. It’s frightening.”
Taking a look at the stats and seeing that the Aggies put up 704 yards of offense is, indeed, scary enough, just four days before Halloween.
However, USU had 557 of those yards in the first half. The first string played the first drive of the second half and then sat the rest of the game. The Lobos finished with 291 yards of total offense.
The Utags had 306 yards of offense in the second quarter.
“The character piece is being challenged right now,” Davie said. “After a debacle like this, coming off the Fresno State game, we’re playing another good team, San Diego State. It’s not going the way we want it to go. Guys are getting in one on one matchups and not having success.”
Here are five takeaways from Utah State’s rout of the Lobos.
- This should not happen to a thriving program in its seventh season under the same head coach.
When UNM lost its last seven games of 2017, Davie made a somewhat controversial decision to move away from the triple-option offense in favor of a spread-option attack.
But just two years ago in the same stadium, the Lobos defeated Utah State 24-21. The opposite directions that the programs are going is shocking.
“Again, it’s on me,” Davie said Saturday, referring to the Lobos’ current plight that resulted in a horrendous performance.
“We made a decision to schematically open things up and throw the ball around, (play with) some tempo,” he said. “We keep putting our defense out there because we’re not keeping the ball and running the ball. So that’s on me. We’re in a transition year, and very seldom do I ever use the word ’embarrassing,’ because guys give effort and there’s a lot that goes into this. But that teetered on embarrassment today.”
It’s a good thing Utah State decided not to totter.
Yes, the Lobos have a third-string quarterback in the lineup. Yes, their best defender is out for the year.
But it’s baffling that this program can be trailing in a conference game by 50 points after just more than one half of football. A new scheme can’t be the only reason.
Whether the program got complacent after 2016 or missed on several recruits, something is seriously wrong internally.
2. The coaching staff failed Sheriron Jones.
Davie said earlier this week that Jones, who has been the starter for the majority of the season because of injuries to Tevaka Tuioti and Coltin Gerhart, still needed to improve in his reads and getting through his progression while making better decisions.
And while it is becoming more evident that Jones still has a long way to go in mastering his reads, the coaching staff either hasn’t found what he does best or is not catering to what he does best.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff looked to be a complete bust before coach Sean McVay arrived. The Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl last year after figuring out Nick Foles’ strengths.
If Jones is more effective in the triple-option, then the Lobos should’ve found a way to keep it in use. If he’s struggling with the spread, the coaching staff should’ve continued to sprinkle in Patrick Reed in the wildcat offense to take some pressure off Jones.
In previous games, Jones has shown glimpses of adept play if not brilliance. He has been a slow starter but has shown when he gets comfortable that he can move the offense.
But he hasn’t been anywhere near comfortable the last two weeks, and the offense has looked woefully unprepared.
And UNM has done nothing to get the running game going.
3. Coltin Gerhart has to start against San Diego State next week.
First, a disclaimer. After Jones threw his third interception on UNM’s first drive of the second half, Gerhart entered the game and moved the team, getting a couple of second-half scores.
But no one should be lauding anything UNM did in the second half against a Utah State team that was already checked out by halftime and on to thinking about its next game.
If anyone tries to use the “there were positives in the second half” or “at least UNM didn’t quit,” excuses uttered this week, that person should have his or her Halloween candy privileges revoked for life.
The reason Gerhart needs to start is due to the team’s response to Jones’ first interception of the game. Trailing 7-3 midway through the first quarter, Jones marched the Lobos 65 yards to the Utah State 10-yard-line.
On the ensuing play, he underthrew a pass intended for Elijah Lilly in the end zone and USU’s Shaq Bond intercepted it and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown and 14-3 lead.
And for the first time in Davie’s tenure, it looked like UNM checked out of the game. The Aggies scored four more touchdowns over the next 10 minutes.
The team completely deflated after that. Gerhart’s insertion at least would give the team some reason for hope for better results.
4. The non-conference schedule was complete crap in preparing UNM for conference play
With all due respect to Wisconsin, which was a solid foe but clearly not the No. 5 team in the country, the Lobos have to find tougher opponents than Incarnate Word and Liberty.
If they want to play an FCS school, at least schedule a ranked FCS school. And any lower-level Power Five school or upper-echelon Conference USA foe has to give UNM a better indication of where it stands entering conference play.
Yes, the Lobos routed UNLV to start MW play. But that was the perfect storm with Rebels QB Armani Rogers sidelined. Jones was able to get a feel for that game and got the offense rolling in the second quarter and beyond.
UNM has been outclassed the last two games. Had it known sooner of the work ahead, the coaching staff might’ve realized it needs to do more schematically to give its talent the chance to compete
5. Davie will get another year to fix this.
Give Davie credit for his candor with KKOB’s DonTrell Moore after the game.
We’ve got a lot of things to solve — our psyche,” Davie said. “We’ve got to look at our techniques. We’ve got to look at what gives us the best chance to win, today. It’s like you say; it’ll get ugly. It got ugly today. I’m concerned right now. I’m concerned.”
Also, give Davie credit for turning around a program that had won three of its previous 40 games prior to his arrival. He was doing something right.
And Tuioti’s injury may have been a bigger loss than anyone expected.
He talked about Utah State’s offense being in the second year under new coordinator Dave Yost. It’s conceivable the Lobos could have the same resurgence under Calvin Magee.
But Davie’s not going anywhere after this season. A recent USA Today coaches salaries chart indicated that Davie’s buyout would be $1.3 million as of Dec. 1, 2018. The school cannot afford to make a change.
So he’ll have a chance to see his recreation through at least 2019.