New Mexico State (0-3) at New Mexico (1-1)
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Location: Dreamstyle Stadium
TV: AT&T Sports Network
Radio: KKOB 94.5 FM, 770AM
Line: New Mexico favored by 4 1/2
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
The premise for the New Mexico rivalry game Saturday between the two Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the state is pretty simple.
The winner between visiting New Mexico State (0-3) and New Mexico (1-1) builds badly needed momentum and continues to entertain thoughts of a successful season.
The loser can start thinking about the 2020 season.
The math is straightforward for the Aggies, whose winless start should be expected because of the level of their competition the first three weeks of the season (No. 19 Washington State, No. 2 Alabama and San Diego State have a combined 9-0 record so far).
Lose, and NMSU drops to 0-4 and would have to win six of its final eight games to become bowl eligible. That’s a tall order for a program that has had one winning season in the last 17 years. That happened in 2017 when the Aggies went 7-6.
On the other side, a loss doesn’t necessarily kill UNM’s chances to reach the postseason, but it may destroy any remaining interest to follow the team as it hopes to get to the six-win threshold.
UNM deputy athletic director David Williams told the Albuquerque Journal that the team had fewer than 10,000 people actually in attendance for the season-opening, 39-31 win over Sam Houston State on Aug. 3.
Thanks to the interest in the rivalry game by fans of both schools, UNM had sold more than 15,200 tickets as of Wednesday, the Journal reported.
Coach Bob Davie’s future with the program is unclear. Even if he were able to get the Lobos to vie for the postseason, unless attendance increases significantly, UNM probably still would have to make a change to inject interest in the program.
“It all probably starts this Saturday, for both teams,” Davie said during his weekly news conference on Tuesday. “That’s why it’s such a big game; it’s such a big indicator. It’s such a crystal ball of what’s yet to come.
“It’s a big game for this state.”
For the second consecutive week, Davie will not be with the Lobos at the game as he continues to recover from the “serious medical incident” he suffered right after the conclusion of the season opener.
Offensive line coach Saga Tuitele will serve as acting head coach, but at least he knows who his quarterback will be for the entire game — barring injury or a lopsided scored.
Sophomore Tevaka Tuioti will make his first start for the Lobos this season. He went 6 of 13 for 132 yards last week in the 66-14 loss at No. 7 Notre Dame. Tuioti is the third different starting quarterback for UNM in as many weeks.
Junior college transfer Brandt Hughes started the season opener but suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, which will end his season.
Senior Sheriron Jones started the first half against the Irish.
“So much of this hinges on the quarterback, moving forward,” Davie said. “It will be a good indicator of how it will go the rest of the season, probably.”
Not only are the Lobos counting on Tuioti to lead his team to victory, but they have to be hoping he can put what Davie in the past has referred to as “a little juice” or excitement to the offense to help the team regenerate fan interest as the season moves along.
UNM also is counting on a running back to take charge of the backfield. Several players have shown flashes of taking command of the position, but the plan is still to go by committee.
The Lobos’ need to score style points is a different pressure than the Aggies are facing. New Mexico State is trying to break through to the win column and get the monkey off its back.
The team has lost five straight, dating back to 2018.
NMSU coach Doug Martin said during his weekly press conference this week that his team has not played consistent enough football to win a game yet. He was speaking specifically about last week’s 31-10 loss to Rocky Long’s Aztecs.
“Had we turned the ball over one time Saturday (instead of the four turnovers the Aggies committed), we win,” Martin said. “But we didn’t, and we haven’t learned that yet and that’s the deal we’ve got to get fixed to be a competitive football team.”
Offensively, NMSU also is averaging just 9.0 points per game. Martin was asked whether he could do anything personnel-wise — especially on the offensive line — or in play-calling to boost the unit’s success.
“We don’t have any other players to play,” Martin said. “Three of our four top offensive tackles were out before the first game — for the season. We don’t have any other offensive linemen. This is it.
“The play-calling thing is interesting. … I told the team, ‘You have to give the coaches enough confidence where they can be aggressive play-callers to score points.’ If you’re going to be conservative and you’re going to say, ‘Well, I can’t call that play because we might throw an interception. I can’t call that play because we might fumble.’ You’re not going to win, and right now, that’s what our players are doing to us.”
NMSU QB Josh Adkins is average 221.7 passing yards per game but has five interceptions to just two touchdowns.
The Lobos are averaging 123 more yards per game on offense than the Aggies (424.0 vs. 301.0).
But the game — and the seasons — may come down which offense finds its rhythm the fastest to push its team to a win.