Saturday: New Mexico (2-1) at Liberty (2-2)
Time: 4:06 p.m. MT
Location: Williams Stadium, Lynchburg, Va.
TV: ESPN+ (streaming)
Radio: KKOB 94.5 FM, 770-AM
Line: Liberty favored by 7 1/2 (VegasInsider.com)
FEATURE PHOTO COURTESY UNM ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
Lobo football fans, you remember Steven Calvert and Antonio Gandy-Golden.
Oh, and of course, Bob Davie.
The University of New Mexico head coach returns from a two-game absence after suffering a “serious medical condition” following the Lobos’ 39-31 season-opening win over Sam Houston State.
He returns to try to lead the Lobos (2-1) to their first 3-1 start to a season during his eight-year tenure.
The duo from Liberty (2-2), which plays host to New Mexico on Saturday, wreaked havoc on the UNM defense during the team’s matchup last year at Dreamstyle Stadium that resulted in a 52-43 win for the Flames.
Quarterback Calvert, now a senior, threw for 417 yards, and all three of his touchdown passes came in the first half as Liberty built a 42-10 halftime lead.
Gandy-Golden? Also back for his senior season, Gandy-Golden “only” finished with 11 receptions for 245 yards and a touchdown. It was Calvert’s 50-yard pass to Gandy-Golden, who simply outjumped Lobo defenders for the ball in the game’s final three minutes that put the Flames in field-goal range to thwart a furious UNM second-half rally that cut the visitors’ lead to 49-43.
Now the duo and their evolving offense, under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, get to face a Lobo defense that ranks last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing defense at 404.0 yards allowed per game (Liberty had 472 passing yards last year vs. New Mexico).
“We went back on Sunday and re-educated our team on who Liberty is,” Davie said during his weekly news conference on Tuesday. “Because we don’t have many guys who know who Liberty is. Now, the guys from last year (do), but there’s not very many guys from last year.”
Last year’s game was the last of 2018 for UNM quarterback Tevaka Tuioti, who broke his clavicle on a running play in the first half.
It was backup Sheriron Jones who nearly brought back the Lobos, throwing for 312 yards and four TDs, albeit with three interceptions.
Tuioti, however, is back in command at UNM and coming off a career-high 355-yard passing day against New Mexico State last week that resulted in a 55-52 Lobo victory.
Also in New Mexico’s favor this time around is the presence of offensive coordinator Joe Dailey. Dailey was the architect of Liberty’s 568 yards of offense last year vs. UNM as he was on the visitor’s side as the Flames’ offensive coordinator.
This year, he will again be on the visitor’s side for the cherry and silver.
The Lobos, however, are entering Saturday’s game short-handed, having lost wide receiver Elijah Lilly for the season. Lilly, who leads the team with seven receptions and has 95 receiving yards, is out for the season after deciding to undergo surgery on his right labrum.
Lilly had been dealing with the injury since August but decided on the surgery so he could retain his year of eligibility.
UNM proved that life — on offense, at least — goes on without Lilly. Tuioti connected with eight different receivers against the Aggies. Junior college transfer Jordan Kress emerged with three receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
The Lobos also had a season-high 243 rushing yards against NMSU, led by Ahmari Davis’ career-high 133 rushing yards.
The over/under for the game is between 72 and 73, up from the opening line of 66. It’s probably a good bet to take the over again.
For now, that won’t matter to Davie and the Lobos if they can wrap up their non-conference schedule with a 3-1 record as they look to reverse their fortunes from back-to-back 3-9 campaigns in 2017 and 2018.