Saturday (Nov. 3): San Diego State at New Mexico
Time: 8:15 p.m.
Location: Dreamstyle Stadium
Radio: KKOB FM (94.5), AM (770)
Line: San Diego State favored by 10
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
With the Rock coming to town, Lobo coach Bob Davie could be forgiven for not knowing whether his team will sink or swim.
The question for Saturday’s college football game at Dreamstyle Stadium is whether San Diego State has the University of New Mexico’s undivided attention.
The Lobos (3-5, 1-3 Mountain West) are in the throes of a three-game losing streak and hoping to avoid a similar fate from 2017 when they lost their last seven games of the season.
The Aztecs (6-2, 3-1) are smarting from an upset loss to Nevada last week and are looking to recapture their swagger on the grounds that coach Rocky Long used to occupy for 11 years.
UNM’s focus, at least externally, however, has been split between preparations for Saturday’s game and the physical altercation last weekend between linebackers Evahelotu Tohi and David Brown that left Brown hospitalized for multiple days and Tohi suspended.
Davie got caught in the fray when he received backlash for allowing Tohi to practice two days before suspending him from all team activities.
The media on Thursday asked Davie how the team could put all the distractions aside and focus on winning a game on Saturday.
“I don’t think that’s one bit of hindrance at all,” Davie said. “That’s my job to narrow the focus with these players. I think that one thing that’s always been a benefit to a team is perception is not reality. I’ll just leave it at that.”
The Lobos are counting on the return of senior quarterback Coltin Gerhart to spark an offense that has bogged down the last three weeks.
UNM is averaging just 14.7 points and 290 yards per game in losses to Colorado State, Fresno State and Utah State. Gerhart, who has been sidelined with a sprained foot he suffered in the first game of the season, entered in the second half of last weekend’s 61-19 blowout loss to Utah State and managed to have some success.
He completed 8 of 12 passes for 110 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He led the Lobos on a pair of touchdown-scoring drives, albeit after the Aggies had the game well in hand.
For several weeks, Davie talked about the inability to incorporate the triple-option into their offense because Sheriron Jones was the lone experienced QB on the team as Gerhart and starter Tevaka Tuioti (broken clavicle) were out of the lineup.
Davie would not tip his hand whether the Lobos could use the triple-option against Long’s 3-3-5 attack defense, but he did expect better execution from the offense with Gerhart starting over Jones.
“We’re still thin at that position,” Davie said. “I don’t know if it opens (the playbook) up as much as just try to execute what we do at a higher level. It’s all about execution, and I could put on a tape of the Utah State game and show eight plays on offense that if we would’ve just executed in some simple fashion — not this hard-to-explain kind of thing — you would see that it’s all about execution on offense. There are some opportunities there.
“So it’s about us executing more than opening something up; we don’t necessarily need any more. We’ve got to execute what we do, especially against a moving defense like this.”
As usual, the Aztecs are one of the top-ranked defenses in the country, checking in at No. 13 overall in total defense by allowing 305.6 yards per game. They are 23rd in the nation in scoring defense at 19.6 points allowed per game.
But SDSU will receive its own boost on offense this week. Starting quarterback Christian Chapman, who sprained his knee in the Aztecs’ season opener, is available this week, although Ryan Agnew, who replaced Chapman, still will start.
Also, tailback Juwan Washington and fullback Isaac Lessard also will return from injuries they suffered in SDSU’s fourth game of the season against Eastern Michigan.
Neither Washington, who averaged 128.2 rushing yards per game in the four games he’s played, nor Lessard will start.
The Lobo defense, torched for 557 first-half yards at Utah State last weekend, will be without safety/punt returner Marcus Hayes (concussion-like symptoms). Davie stated earlier in the week that the defensive play this season has been his biggest source of frustration.
Those are the normal distractions that occur on a weekly basis before Saturday games. Davie also has to make sure his team isn’t dwelling on what happened between Tohi and Brown for the Lobos to have a chance to pull off an upset.
After getting outscored 99-26 combined the last two weeks, UNM is in dire need of a positive break or two … or several … to go its way on Saturday.
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.