New Mexico Lobo football: Destined to remain a loser program?

Saturday: San Diego State at New Mexico
Time: 8:15 p.m.
Location: Dreamstyle Stadium
TV: ESPNU
Radio: KKOB FM (94.5), AM (770)
Line: San Diego State favored by 10 1/2

By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor

University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie addressed the issue during his weekly news conference on Tuesday, although in an indirect manner.

Davie praised Utah State’s passing attack last weekend — quarterback Jordan Love threw for a career-high 449 yards in the first half — as the Aggies led 52-5 at intermission and went on for a 61-19 rout of the Lobos.

UNM’s boss said the evolution of the passing attack in college football, in general, has become such an art form for several programs. He added, however, that praising the prowess of an opposing team is not an acceptable practice in explaining a bad loss.

“It’s not good enough just to say, ‘their quarterback this, their receiver this, their defense this, …” Davie said. “That’s a loser mentality. And we are not that.”

The Lobos (3-5, 1-3 Mountain West) now get ready to take on San Diego State (6-2, 3-1) in another matchup that has UNM a double-digit underdog.

New Mexico has not beaten the Aztecs since Rocky Long left as UNM coach in 2008 and joined SDSU in 2009. Long, who’s the all-time winningest New Mexico coach with a record of 65-69 over 11 seasons, has a 70-31 mark at SDSU over eight years.

But Davie’s “loser” reference merits closer inspection. Are the Lobos destined to engage in an annual fight to escape Loserville?

Is Lobo football destined to be a loser? What should be the definition of success?

Long’s records at the two schools should be an indication right there of how much more difficult it is to win at UNM than at other schools. Another indication is how long it took both Long and Davie to build the program to a nine-win plateau (Long did it in 10 years, Davie did it in five) and how quickly the program crashed back down to earth afterward.

When Long was UNM’s coach, he often talked about one of the challenges at a school like New Mexico was how long it takes to build up a program and how quickly it can fall once that momentum is gone.

Davie is experiencing that now.

Lobo Defense Utah State
PHOTO COURTESY UNM ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS: Lobos Jermaine Conyers (92) and Aaron Blackwell (52) tackle Utah State running back Darwin Thompson in the end zone for a safety on Saturday. The play was one of two bright spots during UNM’s 52-5 halftime deficit.

“I would be naive or I’d be burying my head in the sand if I didn’t say this is very difficult,” Davie said Tuesday. “This is a very difficult situation. That’s the reality of that.

“We’ve done what we’ve done offensively, here, created a little niche, won some games, two years in a row with a bowl game. Defensively, we have not got it done overall. We’ve been more conventional, to a degree, on defense. I need to re-evaluate that in the big picture of what it would take here to consistently win.”

When Davie applied for the Lobo head coaching job in 2011, he submitted a thick, multi-page document outlining his plans to rebuild the program.

Back then, he understood that UNM needed a niche, some unique scheme that other programs didn’t see on a weekly basis, to help the school level the playing field.

So it was surprising after last season when Davie decided to phase out the triple-option offense in favor of a spread-option scheme that is commonplace in the sport.

The following is not to take anything away from offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, who is in his first year implementing his system and has been forced to use three different starting quarterback (Coltin Gerhart will make his first start Saturday against the Aztecs) during that process.

But former offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse and his triple-option attack have helped Georgia Southern to a 7-1 record in 2018. Last year, Georgia Southern went 2-10.

When Long arrived at UNM, he brought a blitzing, 3-3-5 defense that also was unique and helped New Mexico achieve success.

Davie lamented the state of his defense, which has not undergone any schematic changes in his seven years in the program.

“There needs to be a full assessment — after the season, not now — of can you do it at a New Mexico being a somewhat conventional style defense that you try to keep developing, you try to keep recruiting, you try to keep developing?” he said.

And deciding how the product will look on the field is just the tip of the iceberg.

UNM’s financial struggles have been well-documented, and extend past just the recent accusations of misappropriation of funds. Not many financial moguls live in New Mexico and can write a check to the school on a whim.

Meanwhile, fellow MW Mountain Division rival Wyoming just completed a $44 million facilities upgrade over the summer. Colorado State spent $240 million on a new stadium and facilities upgrade last year. Utah State had a $36 million upgrade in 2016. Boise State football doesn’t have a money issue. Neither does Air Force.

Sheriron Jones
PHOTO CREDIT UNM ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS: UNM quarterback Sheriron Jones runs on the Rams defense in the first half at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colo. Canvas Stadium opened in 2017 at a $240 million price tag.

San Diego State is planning a new stadium in 2022 for $250 million. UNLV is about to get a whole lot nicer when the Raiders come to town in 2019.

The Lobos caught grief over a $676,000 locker room remodel during the spring as the school also was ready to eliminate men’s soccer, skiing and beach volleyball. And if a recent USA Today chart is correct in claiming that UNM would have to pay Davie a $1.3 million buyout in December if it wants to fire him, that is too high a price for the school.

The population in New Mexico limits the number of FBS prospect in the state, which by area is the fifth largest in the country. In a very good year, five New Mexico prospects get FBS scholarship offers.

By comparison, there can be five FBS prospects on one individual high school team in Texas. So building a program primarily through home-grown talent is not an option.

And then there are the “damn fans,” as Long said on his way out of town after the 2008 season.

Davie’s 2016 squad that won nine games, including the school’s second bowl game in 55 years, had the lowest attendance in 25 years (not counting the attendance for the New Mexico Bowl, which the school has done).

UNM currently is averaging 17,908 fans, which would eclipse 2016 as the lowest attendance since 1991’s average of 15,822.

Thirteen years ago, which seems now like a lifetime ago, the Lobos averaged 38,341 fans per game. The program is drawing only 46.7 percent of the fans it did in 2005. It’s no wonder the team and the school struggle to make ends meet.

Finally, what would be the definition of success? Long got UNM to five bowl games in seven years from 2002-08 but tired of the fans’ lack of appreciation. That said, it was his relationship with former athletic director Paul Krebs, that led to his departure. Not the damn fans.

Are seven or eight wins per year good enough? How often should the team win the conference championship? Granted, 54 years, as the drought is now, is a legitimate gripe for Lobo football supporters.

Davie said he is willing to have those conversations after the season. Right now the focus is, rightfully, on San Diego State.

But the bigger picture about the overall state of Lobo football is the 800-pound (and growing) gorilla in the room.

“There’s a lot of complicated dynamics overall that lead to what happens on that playing field,” Davie said. “There’s a lot of complex issues from A to Z. I’ve lived that for seven years, trying to do what we need to do in our specific situation to have success. We had some success, but to maintain success against an upwardly moving conference is a whole other conversation.

“It’s a huge conversation; it’s a huge analytical thing. But there are a lot of complex, different issues when you’re standing here (as he points to the Lobo logo) with this behind you right here. That’s the reality of all this.”

TOHI SUSPENSION: KOB-TV reported Tuesday that linebacker Evahelotu Tohi has been suspended for beating up a teammate on Saturday night following UNM’s 61-19 loss at Utah State.

The victim, a fellow linebacker, according to KOB, was hospitalized and remains in the hospital as of Wednesday.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Tohi was at practice Tuesday. Davie did not mention the altercation during his news conference Tuesday.

In KOB’s initial report, it said, “after pressing UNM athletics officials,” Davie released a statement, saying he was aware of the altercation and was suspending Tohi from all team activities.

In the statement, Davie did not say when he learned of the altercation.

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