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)
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
The University of New Mexico football team’s 55-52 victory Saturday over in-state rival New Mexico State unveiled a blueprint by which the Lobo might achieve success in 2019.
The question is: can the Lobo continue to win shootouts?
Head coach Bob Davie, who is back on the job full-time after suffering a “serious medical condition” after UNM’s 39-31 win over Sam Houston State in the season-opener, said he didn’t think the Lobos could continue on its current pace of allowing 49.7 points per game and expect to keep winning.
“We’ve got to stay positive, keep building, keep working and practice our butt off because we have to get better,” Davie said during his weekly news conference Tuesday. “You can’t win 55-52 (consistently). We have to get better.”
Saturday’s game in Lynchburg, Va., between UNM (2-1) and Liberty (2-2) have the makings of an affair similar to the Aggies game, and to the Lobos-Flames game last season.
Liberty jumped on UNM early and often at Dremstyle Stadium, bursting out to a 42-10 halftime lead.
Ironically, Lobo quarterback Tevaka Tuioti suffered a season-ending broken clavicle in the first half of last year’s game. Sheriron Jones replaced Tuioti and fueled a furious second-half rally that pulled UNM within 49-43 before Liberty put the game away with a field goal with 1:02 left for a 52-43 win.
Tuioti is back, having thrown for a career-high 355 yards vs. the Aggies in his first start since last year’s injury vs. the Flames.
The sophomore should continue to improve, which is paramount for UNM as it tries to improve its defense.
Davie did say that the defense has been to incorporate some of the junior college transfers it acquired in the offseason into the starting lineup. Star (weak) safety Jerrick Reed II opened the scoring Saturday with a 43-yard interception return off NMSU QB Josh Adkins.
Fellow JC transfer Letayveon Beaton started at free safety. UNM is hoping they can help shore up the secondary.
The Lobos, however, are suffering from the loss of nose tackle Aaron Blackwell, as they are struggling to apply consistent pressure to opposing quarterbacks. UNM ranks dead last in the nation in passing yards allowed (404.0)
New Mexico and New Mexico State weren’t the only schools involved in a high-scoring affair last weekend. UCLA outdueled Washington State 67-63 — in regulation. Colorado State and Toledo combined for 1,241 total yards of offense during the Rockets’ 41-35 victory over the Rams.
That game ended with CSU on the Toledo 2-yard line.
“It’s crazy; it’s turning into a video game,” Davie said about the nature of college football. “Unless you’re in the SEC (with multiple athletes to cover man-to-man), anywhere else, that’s ball’s going to go up and down the field, now.”
That could be what UNM is preparing for in Virginia. But that type of strategy could yield diminishing returns as opposing defenses get more video of the Lobo offense with Tuioti at the controls.
ACADEMIC KUDOS: Davie began Tuesday’s news conference boasting his team’s grade-point average of 2.97 during the spring semester of 2019, which Davie said is the highest ever in a single semester for the football program since UNM started keeping track of the program’s GPAs.
Davie added that the team’s cumulative GPA for the 2018-19 school year was football’s highest ever as well for a calendar, logging a 2.88, as the Albuquerque Journal noted in an article in July.
Davie said he didn’t know why UNM’s spring GPA had not been announced before Tuesday, but he thought it worthy of recognition and celebration.
“I don’t really feel as if I should be the one doing this,” Davie said of announcing the record-breaking team GPA. I’m not looking for the pat on the back. I know sometimes when you say it, it comes across as hollow. It doesn’t come off as significant as if someone else said it.”
In fact, Davie said on four different occasions that he didn’t feel he should be the spokesman for the feat. He’s wrong, of course. Davie has a weekly platform in front of the media every Tuesday during the season and can command the media’s attention almost whenever he wants.
It’s not often that the media talks to academic compliance staff. Davie rectified that by having Andrea Pierson briefly talk about how the staff at the Lobo Center for Student-Athlete Success assists the team in meeting individual and team academic goals. Two other staff members also were present, Brian Ferguson and Eden Mahina — the latter a former Lobo football player.
Davie talked about the importance of having financial support for the Lobo Center for Student-Athlete Success to provide the tools to benefit his team.
“The conversation so much now is, should players be paid?” Davie said. “I think one thing we should take into consideration is the amount of academic support — and how you could ever put a price tag on that, I don’t know.”
Davie said the coaching staff is able to monitor all its players’ academic progress, including the assurance that they not missing any classes.
Davie’s right, of course. Most 18- to 21-year-old might be inclined to skip a class now and then, but student-athletes have an extra layer of supervision that regular college students lack. That support should help churn out better student-athletes.
Davie is also correct that a 2.97 team GPA should be celebrated. The investment in student-athlete success pas been put to good use.