(FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT MARSHALL SAIZ, LOBOPHOTOSTORE.COM: Lobo wide receiver Anselem Umeh goes 56 yards on a pass reception vs. Air Force on Nov. 10)
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
That the Air Force Falcons gouged the University of New Mexico defense was not a surprise. That the Lobos’ anemic offense had no answers is another sign of the program’s freefall.
The Falcons (4-6, 2-4 Mountain West) ran over the Lobo defense for 478 yards, gained a season-high combined 623 and overcame three fumbles — including one in their own end zone — to dominate UNM 42-24 on Saturday at AFA, just outside of Colorado Springs.
In the previous five years of the series, Air Force’s triple-option offense has averaged 37 points per game against New Mexico (3-7, 1-5). But the Falcons previously couldn’t stop Bob Davie’s version of the triple-option, either, as the Lobos averaged 44.8 points per game during that same span.
The Falcons were about the only bunch a Davie-led Lobo team could beat on a consistent basis. UNM had won three straight in the series and four of five. And this year’s AFA team looked to be as bad as any at the Academy in the past decade.
UNM’s triple-option, just like its in-season momentum, was nowhere to be found at Falcon Stadium as New Mexico lost its fifth straight. The Lobos now run a spread-option and are averaging 361.5 yards per game on offense, their lowest average in Davie’s seven-year era.
The 24 points UNM scored against Air Force was its lowest since 2012 when running back Kasey Carrier was forced to play quarterback in the Wildcat offense for the fourth quarterback because the Lobos didn’t have another healthy QB. That team lost 28-23.
The Lobo defense actually scored one of the touchdowns, making the offense look even more ineffective against an opponent that the UNM offense used to feast on, regularly.
Goodbye, bowl-eligibility for 2018.
Here are five takeaways from the Lobos’ loss to the Falcons.
1. Another huge miscalculation is decimating the program.
Davie thought he had the skill players to make the spread-option work moving forward, but he didn’t account for the possibility of losing his starting quarterback and what impact that would have.
It has been argued that Davie’s decision to move away from the triple-option actually started in 2017. There has been speculation that UNM spent so much time working on passing during spring and fall practice that it hurt the triple-option attack.
So rather than go back to the triple-option that helped the Lobos win nine games in 2016, Davie decided to give up the one big weekly advantage the program had — running a unique offense.
Apparently, Davie thought UNM reached its ceiling with the triple-option.
In 2008, former Lobo athletic director Paul Krebs thought the program had reached its ceiling under Rocky Long and his defense-first philosophy.
Krebs also was enamored with the spread-option and hired Mike Locksley, thinking Locksley could bring in offensive talent that was lacking during Long’s tenure.
Locksley thought using a spread-option and a conventional defense could work at UNM. The Lobos won three of 36 games using that strategy from 2009-11.
It’s hard to believe Davie forgot that; when he arrived, he often reminded Lobo fans that he had taken over a program that had gone 3-33 in its previous three years.
2. Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee’s 2018 grade will be “F” if the Lobos don’t win again.
Davie was ecstatic to hire Magee from Arizona in the offseason, as the Wildcats had the No. 4 rushing offense in the nation in 2017.
But the Lobos are averaging 163.0 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry. That’s 72.4 yards and 1.4 yards per carry fewer than the offense averaged in 2017. And those stats are what prompted Davie to change the offense.
Not all of the offensive woes are Magee’s fault. Starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti only made three starts before being lost for the season due to injury. Backup Coltin Gerhart missed six games due to injury.
And Davie refused to run any triple-option because he didn’t want to risk injury to Sheriron Jones and be forced to take the redshirt off true freshman Trae Hall.
But the Lobos have not been able to manufacture any big plays in the run game this season, which had to be a critical component if they were to rebound from a 3-9 season in 2017.
It’s why UNM could be on its way to back-to-back 3-9 seasons. Magee didn’t do enough in the offseason to ensure the run game would continue to thrive.
3. The offensive line needs an offseason makeover.
Not only is the running game a shell of its former self, but UNM’s quarterbacks have been sacked 21 times this season.
Opposing defenses have recorded 72 tackles for losses through 10 games. That’s 14 more than they made in all of 2017. The switch to the spread-option this year can’t be the only explanation.
Offensive line coach Saga Tuitele made a splash in 2016 when he took over and directed a unit that helped the Lobos lead the nation in rushing with 350 yards per game.
But the success attributed to Tuitele might’ve been a bit of a mirage. He took over during the summer of 2016, just before the start of fall camp — meaning the groundwork that season on the offensive line already had been done under former line coach Jason Lenzmeier.
The last two seasons, the line simply has not appeared as physical that the program desperately needs to maintain time of possession.
4. The Daevon Vigilant attack needs to begin.
Part of the effectiveness of UNM’s triple-option was that it created so many big plays that the Lobos could use several ball-carriers and have success.
With the move toward a more conventional running attack, the Lobos might be better suited to ride one running back 20 or more times a game to allow him and the line to get in sync and get him into a rhythm that can start to wear down defenses in the second half.
Vigilant looked to be the best back on Saturday. He had 12 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Tyrone Owens has not been able to recapture his 2016 form when he rushed for 1,097 yards and averaged 8.0 yards per carry. He did have eight carries for a respectable 46 yards and a TD vs. the Falcons.
It’s time to give Vigilant a shot at becoming the primary back to give the offense some rushing consistency.
5. Athletic director Eddie Nunez needs to start thinking about contingency plans now.
It would be a horrible look for the athletic program to fire Davie after this season and have to buy out the remainder of his contract, which has been a reported $1.3 million, when it just terminated a nationally ranked men’s soccer program, a ski team that has a national championship and a beach volleyball program because of financial struggles.
And Davie did build the program once.
But an Albuquerque Journal article on Saturday reported that UNM is lagging behind on its ticket revenue projection of $1.2 million for 2018. This, after the department shaved off $700,000 from its 2017 projection to try to make a more accurate budget estimate.
No one is showing up to Lobo home games. UNM can’t afford to fire Davie, but then again, it has to determine whether it can afford not to fire Davie. For all the success he had in 2016-2017, he also has three seasons of five-game losing streaks or worse in seven seasons.
But who is out there for New Mexico to look at?
The obvious candidate is Arizona State defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales, a Valley High School graduate, a UNM alum and former Lobo and San Diego State assistant under Rocky Long.
Zach Arnett is the current defensive coordinator under Long at SDSU. He’s a La Cueva grad and a former Lobo player under Long but probably is a few years away from being ready.
Who else is out there? Jim Mora Jr.? Hue Jackson (he was a serious candidate when Krebs hired Locksley)?
Someone has to understand the issues associated with UNM and be able to build a fan base. Davie never has done the latter.