3 keys to beating the Lobos
LARAMIE -- You would think the key to beating a winless New Mexico team would be glaring and obvious.
To a degree, it is.
This Lobos' team is not rolling over and dying for teams and has not exactly had a cake-walk schedule through the first five weeks though.
Oh, did we mention the Lobos haven't been home since late October. By home we mean Albuquerque. New Mexico has been forced to set up shop in Las Vegas where they are using the former stomping grounds of the UNLV Rebels, Sam Boyd Stadium, as their home venue for 2020.
The Lobos also have a new coaching staff and will be starting a new quarterback under center Saturday night when Craig Bohl's Cowboys roll into town.
New Mexico is not a good football team right now. Just ask Danny Gonzales. But don't expect them to roll out the red carpet for the Pokes.
They rarely do.
Work the walk-on
New Mexico's quarterback situation has been in flux all season. Trae Hall is hurt (ribs). So is Tevaka Tuioti (concussion).
Those two combined to throw for 993 yards, four touchdowns and the same amount of interceptions.
Neither will be available Saturday night when the Cowboys pay a visit to Sam Boyd Stadium.
Enter Connor Genal, a red-shirt freshman, who walked on to the New Mexico program. This will be his first collegiate start. He did see some action in last week's loss to Utah State. Genal completed 5-of-10 passes for 61 yards and a pick.
“He’s got some moxie to him,” Gonzales told the Albuquerque Journal. “He came in a bad situation on Thursday night and he brought us to within a touchdown of tying the game. … They believe he has the ability. It’s OK. We’re going to go in with the same fight.”
If Genal can't get the job done, Gonzales will have no choice to turn to another walk-on. Isaiah Chavez is a true freshman, who has yet to see the field.
Imagine what is going through the minds of Garrett Crall, Jaylen Pate and Chad Muma right now? Not to mention CJ Coldon, Azizi Hearn and the rest of the Cowboys' defense.
New Mexico's offensive line has allowed 13 sacks through five games. Wyoming, on the other hand, has gotten to opposing quarterbacks 16 times in just four games.
If the Cowboys can make life miserable for Genal, look for the youngster to make plenty of mistakes. The Lobos do have a trio of receivers who have snagged more than 200 yards worth of balls this season, but if the Pokes can disguise coverage and sustain a pass rush, the chances of the ball getting in the hands of those guys drops dramatically.
This is how Gonzales started his Thursday night press conference after the Lobos blew a 13-6 halftime lead, gave up 28 points in the third quarter and eventually lost to Utah State, 41-27.
"We're a terrible football team."
He's not lying. And it didn't end there.
“The only way you get better is you show up to work, the next opportunity you get,” Gonzales said. “The ones in the locker room who think the coaches are full of nonsense, I hope they show their faces. Some of them think (the coaches are) mean, or (the coaches) don’t know. It will show, It will rear its ugly head. Now that we have lost five in a row, we’ll find out the true character of guys, and we need to.”
New Mexico currently owns the second longest losing streak in the nation at 14 games. Only Akron has been worse with 21 consecutive losses. The Lobos have lost 20 Mountain West games in a row, including 25 of their last 26.
This team is wounded. Literally and figuratively.
The Lobos have hung tough in the first quarter in all five games this fall. They've actually had a halftime lead twice. It's the third quarter that has been very unkind to New Mexico.
Opponents have outscored the Lobos 59-21. Twice they have been held scoreless in that frame.
Wyoming hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard in the first or second quarters of games this season. The Pokes have made hay in the second half, including scoring 21 points in the third quarter of last Friday's 45-14 win over UNLV.
That doesn't bode well for the Lobos.
As they get weaker, the Cowboys get stronger.
That, of course, can mostly be attributed to UW's power running game, led by Xazavian Valladay and Trey Smith.
New Mexico allows 161.6 yards per game on the ground. UW averages 238 per outing, second in the Mountain West Conference.
If Wyoming can jump on the Lobos early, it could be a long day in the desert for Rocky Long's defense. Valladay is listed as "day-to-day" with a leg injury, but the visitors have plenty of reserves when it comes to running the ball behind that big, veteran offensive line.
Levi Williams spoke before UW was set to take on Utah State. He said the winless Aggies are the scariest teams to face. They have nothing to lose. The same can be said for the Lobos.
This New Mexico program forgot how to win. Wyoming needs to remind them of that early.
Make 'em one-dimensional
Believe it or not, New Mexico boasts a stout rushing attack led by the duo of Bobby Cole and Nathaniel Jones.
Cole has rushed for a team-leading 279 yards and three touchdowns. Jones averages 5.2 yards per carry and can bust a long one at any moment. The Lobos average 170 yards per game on the ground, which is good enough for fourth in the league.
It doesn't take a longtime head coach to imagine that the Lobos will try to run early and often Saturday night with a rookie under center. Establishing the run game will likely be priority No. 1 for Gonzales and Co.
There's a slight problem though.
Wyoming hasn't let that happen through its four games this season, holding its opponents to just 104.5 yards per game.
Despite their winless record, the Lobos have been in nearly every game this fall. Unbeaten San Jose State didn't pull away until the second half. New Mexico led Nevada at half and were right on Hawaii's heels in Week 2.
Only Air Force was able to pin the Lobos down early and keep them there.
The last two games have served as the most lopsided. And a theme has become very clear.
New Mexico lost 28-0 to Air Force then followed that with that 41-27 setback in Logan, Utah.
Those two guys mentioned in the first sentence combined for 58 yards rushing against the Flacons and just 43 versus the Aggies.
They racked up 402 in the first three games. Ya know, the ones they were close in.
Shut down the Lobos rushing attack, shut down any hopes they have of snapping that extended losing streak. The blueprint is a simple one.