Feature photo courtesy UNM Athletic Communications: Lobo punt returner Marcus Hayes returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown Friday night, the school’s first in 16 years.
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
The free fall continues for the University of New Mexico football team.
The 23rd-ranked Boise State Broncos, as expected, had little trouble with the skidding Lobos on Friday, defeating the home team 45-14 in front of an announced crowd of 16,883.
And while the number of actual people at Dreamstyle Stadium was less than half that, it was a tad more full for the nationally ranked Broncos than the last home game vs. San Diego State.
But UNM (3-8, 1-6 Mountain West) now has a six-game losing streak with one game left in the 2018 season next week against Wyoming (4-6, 2-4 going into Saturday’s game vs. Air Force).
Boise State (9-2, 6-1) has beaten the Lobos three straight times since UNM’s shocking 31-24 win at Boise, Idaho in 2015.
That victory helped carry UNM to a nine-win season the following year, but it obviously did not give coach Bob Davie the foundation he needed to turn the program into a perennial MW contender.
Here are five takeaways from the Lobos’ loss:
1. Maybe there’s not a foundation for Bob Davie to build on.
During his postgame news conference, Davie made an interesting comment about his defense, saying he thought that 9-4 record in 2016 would help UNM’s recruiting efforts for better talent, but that has not been the case.
Really, on both ends, the Lobos don’t seem to have a plethora of talent that it had in 2016. The offense doesn’t have a running back as dynamic as Teriyon Gipson was in 2016. Wide receiver Delane Hart-Johnson has been underused.
The line isn’t as dominant as a whole (despite Aaron Jenkins’ presence), and there seems to be a considerable drop-off in talent at QB behind Tevaka Tuioti.
Perhaps, the foundation from 2016 was a bit of a mirage, to begin with. Of UNM’s 33 wins during Davie’s tenure at the school, only three teams have finished with winning records at season’s end — 9-4 Boise State in 2015; 10-3 Air Force and 8-6 Wyoming in 2016. FCS school Incarnate Word (6-4) has a chance this year.
But again, it’s an FCS school.
That makes the rebuilding process more arduous.
2. What kind of offense are the Lobos running?
Bob Davie’s decision to switch from a triple-option, to a spread-option that would keep some triple-option elements, seemed received a lot of fanfare during the offseason.
And the offense hasn’t been able to progress because of the injuries and inconsistencies, but it isn’t doing much passing anymore.
The Lobos have thrown an un-spread-option offense-like 52 passes (for 330 yards) combined in the last three games, but they haven’t embraced the triple-option, either.
Quarterback Sheriron Jones is now playing with a great deal more caution than he was earlier, in which he has amassed 11 interceptions.
He still was intercepted again in the fourth quarter on Saturday, perhaps justifying the reasons the Lobo coaching staff has put the clamps on the passing attack.
But in the process, it continues to waste Hart-Johnson, who had a team-high four catches for 77 yards. Hart-Johnson now has 33 catches for 507 yards on the season, probably about half (or less) than most pundits figured he would have in the spread-option.
A third-string excuse?
When UNM was down to Jones as its only QB (as both Tuioti and backup Coltin Gerhart were out with injuries), Davie often reminded the media that the Lobos were down to their third QB.
Well, Gerhart has returned and was available Friday night but did not play, and Jones instead split time with Bryson Carroll.
There’s no question that the Lobos miss Tuioti, who broke the clavicle on his throwing shoulder against Liberty in Game 4. But UNM’s losing streak may not have looked any different with a healthy Gerhart.
Like he has all season, Jones has shown moments of adept quarterback play on Friday. He has yet to do it on a consistent basis. But there are other options available, and Jones still is the starter.
So Jones really could be called Tuioti’s backup, and the offense really was in better hands than Davie may have given credit for.
Perhaps the reporter who thought Davie was throwing Jones under the bus in the postgame news conference after the loss to Liberty, wasn’t so far off after all.
It’s a struggle, but the Lobos are far from the abyss. …
The pessimist would ask what took so long, but the optimist sees the Lobo coaching staff still working hard in trying to break the losing cycle by inserting quarterback-turned-running back-turning back to quarterback Carroll in a Wildcat/triple-option set.
Carroll’s speed is an asset, and it did keep the Broncos a bit off-balance, especially in the first half.
Marcus Hayes scored on an 86-yard punt return, marking the Lobos’ first since 2002 (a span of 208 games). The Lobos had the nation’s second-longest drought in the nation. Only Rice has a longer streak.
The Lobos put together a sustained drive for a touchdown in the second quarter. Safety Stanley Barnwell blocked a third-quarter field goal. UNM also tried an onsides kick … that was unsuccessful.
So however much apathy surrounds the program from the outside, inside the program, the staff and team continue to isolated signs of life.
Yes, the Lobos continue to make mistakes at critical junctures that on Friday led to their demise. But they aren’t just going through the motions, as they did for the few seasons before Davie’s arrival.
… And yet, those errors at critical times are frustrating.
It’s hard to look at the final score and think that UNM had its chances. But it did have a chance to at least keep the game competitive.
UNM’s initial drive of the game penetrated the Boise State 45, and a play inside the Broncos 40 was negated by a personal foul penalty on offensive tackle Aaron Jenkins that effectively killed the drive.
Jenkins said after the game he didn’t hear the whistle.
In the second quarter, after the Lobos scored to pull within 14-7 and forced a Boise State punt, running back Zahneer Shuler fumbled inside UNM’s own 10. The Broncos’ Desmond Williams caused the fumble, picked up the loose ball and ran 9 yards for a score to give the visitors some breathing room at 21-7.
New Mexico then compounded the problem by driving 55 yards on its next possession … and then missing a 37-yard field goal.
Finally, UNM’s first possession of the second half ended in a Daveon Vigilant fumble at its 27. The defense had stopped the Broncos short of the goal line and forced a field goal, but Barnwell drew a roughing the kicker penalty.
The Broncos scored on a 5-yard pass from Brett Rypien to Sean Modster on the next play and a 31-7 lead.