By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
The Lobos lost more than a football game on Friday night in San Jose, Calif.
They lost their identity.
University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie benched quarterback Tevaka Tuioti in the first half, the Lobos committed six turnovers, and they spotted host San Jose State a 26-0 lead en route to a 32-21 Spartans victory.
The loss was bad enough for UNM (2-3, 0-1 Mountain West), whose hopes for returning to a bowl game in 2019 took a major hit.
But the Lobos don’t have a clear answer who they are on offense, defense or special teams.
The most consistent unit is the defense, which for the second straight week exhibited a bend-but-don’t-break resolve after giving up 49.7 points per game in their first three contests.
Special teams blocked a field goal and an extra point but also missed a 28-yard field goal and had a punt blocked for the first time since Tyson Dyer became the program’s punter in 2018.
But it’s a psyche-damaged offense that heads into next week with the biggest question mark — because of the regression and benching of Tuioti in the second quarter in favor of senior Sheriron Jones.
“I’m not saying everything was Tevaka’s fault,” coach Bob Davie said during a postgame interview that KKOB 94.5 FM/770 AM captured. “But Sheriron came out with fire.”
Yet, Davie also said that Jones threw “ridiculous” interceptions — three of them vs. SJSU (3-2, 1-1).
Davie said he challenged his team in the locker room after Friday’s performance.
We took a step back the last two weeks,” he said. “I think it’s performance. It’s full-on execution.
“We’re five games into the season, we should be getting better at this point. It’s a gut check, look-in-the-mirror check to play better.”
Here are three takeaways from UNM’s loss to San Jose State.
1. Plan B went out the window with Brandt Hughes’ season-ending injury
Davie raised eyebrows in 2017 when he tried to start making the Lobos a more balanced offense after they led the nation in rushing in 2016.
Then in 2018, Davie made it official by scrapping the triple-option in favor of the spread-option — largely because of Tuioti’s potential.
When Tuioti broke his clavicle in Game 4 against Liberty in 2018, Jones came in and did an admirable job — especially considering the fact that he is not a spread-option QB.
In the offseason, the Lobo coaching staff went out and recruited junior college transfer Brandt Hughes, whom they considered a better fit for the spread option. In fact, he won the starting job over Jones for the season opener vs. Sam Houston State due to Tuioti’s extended absence during fall practice.
Hughes, however, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the first half against the Bearkats. At the time, the injury didn’t loom as that big of a threat to a successful season because Tuioti, Plan A at QB, simply needed more practice time.
Sure, there were always going to be concerns that Tuioti might sustain another injury. But no one could’ve imagined the scenario that unfolded Friday night.
After completing just 12 of 26 passes for 139 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in UNM’s 17-10 loss at Liberty last week, Tuioti was just 4 of 10 for 34 yards and one interception before getting the hook Friday night in the second quarter.
Davie said he would have to reevaluate the QB position before next Friday night’s home game against Colorado State.
Without Hughes, the situation is more tenuous — unless redshirt freshman Trae Hall can somehow work his way into the equation.
2. A necessary but costly move?
Tuioti’s issues cast a huge shadow of doubt over the Lobo offense for the rest of the season. With UNM committed to the spread-option, Tuioti has the most compatible skills of the team’s three QBs.
Jones, for all his rushing prowess, is limited as a thrower. He has shown that he can throw for a lot of yards, if necessary, as he proved last year in filling in for an injured Tuioti last year against Liberty when he threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns.
But he also threw three interceptions in that game.
Saturday, Jones threw three interceptions that overshadowed his three touchdowns and 231 total yards (127 through the air with two TDs; 104 on the ground with another TD). With Jones in the game, opposing defenses are going to make him move the ball through the air and wait for him to make a mistake.
But Tuioti’s confidence looks to be on very shaky ground after back-to-back subpar performances. Certainly, his family issues have had a big impact on his progress and he doesn’t resemble the player that led UNM to the 55-52 win over New Mexico State on Sept. 21.
Ideally, the coaching staff would exhibit some patience and allow him to work his way through his struggles. But jobs could be on the line if UNM doesn’t show significant improvement from back-to-back 3-9 campaigns and is off to a 2-3 start during what has to be considered the easy portion of the team’s 2019 schedule.
Jones gave the Lobos a bit of a spark on Friday, but in making the move, Davie threw the quarterback situation in disarray ahead of their conference home opener next Friday against Colorado State.
3. Whatever happened to out-discipline?
When Davie arrived at UNM, the program touted the motto, “Outwork, outhustle, out-discipline.”
Friday night was the antithesis of a disciplined team: Six turnovers, a blocked punt, an errant 28-yard field goal attempt and a pair of personal foul penalties, including a targeting call and a roughing-the-passer call — but not including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Davie that offset an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Spartans in the first half.
Despite the defense again giving up 400 passing yards, in all likelihood maintaining its hold on last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards allowed, it kept the Spartans from a 40- or 50-point game, which SJSU had enough opportunities to make happen.
But four different Lobos committed the six turnovers on offense. Tuioti finished with an interception in the Spartans end zone in the second quarter. Running back Bryson Carroll fumbled on UNM’s 2 in the second quarter.
Running back Ahmari Davis fumbled at the SJSU 10. In addition, the Lobos fumbled three other times that managed to recover
For the season, New Mexico has committed 13 turnovers and forced only four. The Lobos have 38 penalties (7.6 per game) for 344 yards (68.8 yards per game) through five games, which isn’t awful.
Consider, however, UNM’s first two seasons under Davie. In 2012, the Lobos had 62 penalties in 13 games for an average of 4.8 per game for 530 yards (40.8 yards per game).
The following season, UNM committed 44 penalties in 12 games (3.7 per game) for 363 yards (30.3 yards per game).
Lost in Davie’s two-year-plus search for a new offense is UNM’s growing lack of discipline that has contributed to the Lobos regression since their 9-4 record in 2016.