Lobo football: A must-win game tonight against San Jose State Spartans?

Friday
New Mexico (2-2, 0-0 Mountain West) at San José State (2-2, 0-1)
Time: 8 p.m. MT
Location: CEFCU Stadium, San Jose, Calif.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: KKOB (94.5 FM, 770AM)
Line: San Jose State favored by 6 1/2

By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor

The University of New Mexico football team may be just starting conference play, but it is pretty close to must-win mode if it wants to qualify for a bowl game.

The Lobos open their Mountain West season Friday as they travel to San José State, a team much improved from its combined 3-22 record from 2017 and 2018 under third-year coach Brent Brennan.

The Spartans (2-2, 0-1 Mountain West) are looking to rebound from a 41-24 loss at Air Force last week but stunned Arkansas 31-24 two weeks ago in Fayetteville.

The Lobos (2-2), meanwhile, are trying to rediscover an offense that was lost in a 17-10 last week on the East Coast to Liberty.  After scoring 55 points and churning out 598 yards of offense the week before against New Mexico State, UNM had just 362 total yards and scored its only touchdown of the game vs. the Flames with 43 seconds left.

It was a game New Mexico could ill-afford to lose as it seeks its first bowl-eligible season since 2016. The Lobos are 1-1 in a four-game stretch (New Mexico State, Liberty, San José State, Colorado State) that, realistically, they need to go 3-1 to have a chance to get to six wins in 2019.

The combined record of UNM’s first six opponents, which includes next week’s game at home against the Rams (1-4, 0-1), is 12-16. That includes No. 9 Notre Dame, which torched the Lobos 66-14 on Sept. 14 in South Bend, Ind.

The combined record of the six teams on UNM’s second-half schedule — which includes Wyoming on the road, Hawaii at home, Nevada (road), Air Force (home), No. 16 Boise State (road) and Utah State (home) — is 21-6.

For most of the early season, the concern for the Lobos has been on defense, in which they still rank dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards allowed at 379.5 per game.

UNM, however, has an additional concern after the loss to the Flames last week with an offense that scored only once in three red-zone chances. Quarterback Tevaka Tuioti had an uneven performance, completing 12 of 26 passes for 139 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Coach Bob Davie suggested that Tuioti’s hectic week leading up to the Liberty game — he flew home to Long beach right after the Lobos’ 55-52 win over NMSU to attend the funeral of his paternal grandfather and didn’t return until midnight on Monday night — may have affected his preparation.

“Last week was a different kind of week,” Davie said, regarding his sophomore QB. “Certainly, no excuses made at all about Tevaka and his situation. … I was just concerned how we would handle that.”

Davie said UNM’s offense, in general, missed several opportunities that resulted in the points shortage in Virginia.

“That’s why you go in at halftime with three points,” Davie said. “I did see a competitive spirit come out in the second half … we didn’t execute quite good enough to have big plays. I know we had higher expectations of moving the ball going into the game.”

Eyeing the Lobos’ pass defense. San José State certainly has the same expectation of being able to move the ball behind their two-headed monster at quarterback.

Senior Josh Love has thrown for more than 1,000 yards this season (1,013 to be exact) with five touchdowns and just one interception. He shares duties with freshman Nick Nash, who leads the team in rushing with 210 yards and two scores.

The Spartans also have four wide receivers with double figures in receptions, led by Tre Walker, who has 18 receptions for 230 yards in just two games played.

The UNM defense, which gave up an average of 49.7 points in its first three games, displayed some cohesion last week.

“The defense showed some improvement,” Davie said, referring to the Liberty game. “We have a lot of young players out there, particularly in the secondary. There’s not a player back there that’s started a game before this season.”

That improvement has to continue tonight — or else UNM could be staring at another long second-half to a season.

The program has been a warm-weather team for the last two years. The Lobos have not won a game after Oct. 6 since 2016.

YES, THERE ARE NEW MEXICO KIDS ON THE ROSTER … JUST NOT THAT MANY

Davie threw a couple of barbs out during his weekly news conference. He was miffed that the Albuquerque Journal did not mention the team’s 2.97 spring GPA when Davie brought three academic advisers to last week’s news conference to talk about the team breaking the program record for GPA in a single semester.

Then during a question about Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, Davie segued into the fact that UNM’s 10 points scored against the Flames were carried out by two Albuquerque players — wide receiver Aaron Molina (Valley High School) pulled in a 14-yard touchdown reception from Tuioti with 43 seconds left in the game, and kicker Andrew Shelley (Eldorado High School) nailed a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter.

“I think one interesting thing in the game … we had two Albuquerque kids score in the game — our 10 points,” Davie said. “Aaron Molina with the touchdown pass, Andrew Shelley with the field goal — but that’s not right, right? We don’t have any New Mexico kids on this team. How could that be? We had two Albuquerque kids score 10 points? But we don’t have Albuquerque guys. We don’t have any New Mexico kids on our team, right?”

Davie took issue, again with the Journal’s Steve Virgen, on UNM’s Signing Day in December, when Virgen asked why UNM didn’t sign any New Mexico players (UNM did add one to its Signing Day list in February).

Here is the video to that encounter:

For the record, UNM’s weekly release lists 18 players from New Mexico. During former coach Rocky Long’s 11-year tenure at the school, Lobos players from New Mexico consistently number in the low- to mid-30s.

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