Who has the edge? New Mexico Edition
LARAMIE — People like to say that the game of football is
not played on paper.
They are right — but it’s still fun to look.
Today, we will breakdown the offenses of the New Mexico
Lobos (2-4, 0-2) and Wyoming Cowboys (4-2, 1-1). The two squads will meet
Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium.
So, who has the edge on offense?
Let’s break it down real quick.
Let’s put the passing statistics to the side for a second. Sean Chambers, Wyoming’s redshirt freshman quarterback, leads the Cowboys with 430 yards rushing on 67 attempts. He averages 6.4 yards per carry and has scored eight touchdowns on the ground. I think it’s time to face facts – Wyoming is a running team. Not just any running team, they are a service academy type of rushing squad minus the option. So, if you are going to run that kind of offense, Chambers absolutely fits the mold. His 6-foot, 3-inch, 218-pound frame dishes more punishment than it takes on a weekly basis. Late in the second quarter in San Diego, Chambers lowered his shoulder and demolished an Aztec safety. Now, back to reality. Craig Bohl said the team is “working like crazy” to find a consistent passing attack. At times, it appears there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Like when Chambers hit Gunner Gentry last week for a 45-yard completion to the goal line. Other times, the light is simply a train coming full speed ahead. Chambers is completing just 38 percent of his passes. He hasn’t even attempted 100 throws this season. New Mexico owns statistically the worst pass defense in the United State of America. Will the Pokes take advantage? One would hope so, but don’t bet on it.
The old saying goes: When you play more than one quarterback, you really don’t have one. That statement defines the Lobos perfectly. Tevaka Tuioti, a player Bohl and Co. recruited heavily, has thrown for 660 yards and four touchdowns this season. He is completing just 49 percent of his passes and has tossed four interceptions. He is a threat to run, he just doesn’t do it much. Sheriron Jones, who is the starter on the Lobos’ depth chart this week, has seen the second most snaps behind center for New Mexico. He is completing 42 percent of his passes and has thrown seven picks in just 59 attempts. Jones is the runner of the group, racking up 216 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Brandt Hughes has completed just 12 of 29 passes for 218 yards. Bob Davie is not getting much from his signal callers. Each week, he tries to spark this offense, which has an identity crisis in the first place. One play they run option, the next they drop back. Whatever he is doing, it isn’t working.
The Cowboys rushing attack will be missing a key ingredient Saturday afternoon in true freshman Titus Swen, who is out with an MCL injury. There is no timetable for his return. That means Xazavian Valladay will have to carry the load against the Lobos. Valladay rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries against the Aztecs, who were the nation’s top team at stopping the run. Unfortunately, a big chunk of that came in the first half. Wyoming’s rushing attack was all but MIA in the second half. It’s no surprise that’s when SDSU imposed its will. Valladay, a sophomore from suburban Chicago, has rushed for 298 yards on 59 carries. That’s more than five yards per tote. Chambers will take some pressure off the stable of running backs but expect to see Brett Brenton and maybe even a true freshman enter the lineup against the Lobos Saturday. New Mexico allows just 128 yards on the ground per game. The Cowboys will test that over and over … and over and over again.
New Mexico features a pair of backs that can be dynamic at times. Running behind a big, experienced offensive line, Ahmari Davis and Bryson Carroll, have combined for 846 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. This duo makes the Lobos go. Davis, who suffered a back injury, didn’t play last week in the home loss to Colorado State, but he is second on the depth chart this week behind Carroll. Davis has eclipsed the 100-yard mark twice this season and finished with 99 yards against Liberty and 96 yards versus San Jose State. At 5-foot, 10-inches and 210 pounds, he is a load. Carroll is the smaller speedster at 5-feet, 7-inches and 185 pounds. Against the Rams, Carroll went off for 193 yards on 26 carries. He had a 56-yard jaunt to the end zone, too. If there is any aspect of the Lobos offense to worry about, it’s these guys. Wyoming is ranked 10th in the nation against the rush, allowing just 89.5 yards per outing. That will be put to the test on homecoming.
WIDE RECEIVERS/ TIGHT ENDS:
Not once was a tight end targeted in San Diego. Wyoming wide receivers hauled in just four passes on the night, including two from Raghib Ismail. Rocket Jr., who has arguably been the Pokes best threat through the air this season, also caught his first touchdown pass of the season midway through the fourth quarter. Chambers finished just 5-of-14 for 109 yards. He tossed one touchdown and threw a game-ending interception. When the Cowboys needed to pass – trailing 26-22 with 2:09 on the clock and three timeouts remaining – they couldn’t get the job done. This has become the broken record of the 2019 campaign, but the Pokes must find a passing game and soon. The meat of their schedule is on the horizon. Being one dimensional won’t cut it against Boise State, Utah State and Air Force. Hell, it may not cut it against New Mexico, Nevada or Colorado State. As mentioned above, the Lobos give up big pass plays. Lots of them. They are consistently bad in pass coverage. This would be a perfect time to see Ayden Eberhardt, Gentry, John Okwoli, Ismail and Austin Conway make some hay.
Unlike Wyoming, New Mexico loves throwing to its tight end. Marcus Williams leads all pass catchers with 14 and has racked up 248 yards. That’s good enough for 17.7 yards per grab. Williams has yet to get into the end zone, but he can extend drives. The Lobos biggest deep threat is Jordan Kress, who has snagged just six passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. That’s an eye-popping 35.8 yards per catch. Jay Griffin IV leads the program with nine catches, and Aaron Molina has eight grabs. Nine Lobo receivers have caught passes this season. New Mexico isn’t exactly a juggernaut through the air either. As a team, they rank 94th in the nation, averaging 205.8 yards per game. Wyoming is ranked 127th in that same category. Only three teams in the nation have a worse passing offense than Wyoming – Navy, Army and Georgia Southern. Yes, even Air Force passes for more yards per game than the Pokes. And those three teams, they all run the option.
ADVANTAGE: New Mexico
Subtract two, add one. Wyoming’s best offensive lineman, Eric Abojei, is out for “several weeks” with a left leg injury that he sustained in the second quarter against the Aztecs. Alonzo Velazquez, another one of the Cowboys’ most reliable linemen, is looking doubtful in this one, too. He also has a leg injury. That is not good news for the Cowboys. Logan Harris returning to the lineup is. Harris, the Torrington native, was blasted in the head from the blindside in Tulsa, leaving the field in an ambulance. He missed the UNLV game and didn’t clear concussion protocol in time to play against the Aztecs. This unit has played “next man up” all season long. Patrick Arnold will step in. Frank Crum probably will, too. Those two are more than serviceable. The scary part is what happened to the Cowboys offense once Abojei went down in San Diego. Wyoming rushed the ball 14 times in the second half for just 28 yards. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that won’t work. Bohl all but admitted the game plan had to change without the big left guard in the game. It changed – for the worse. This group will be fine, but losing Abojei, possibly for the long haul, is worrisome.
New Mexico quarterbacks have been sacked just four times this season. That ties the Lobos for third in the nation in that category – with Wyoming. Neither one of these lines let defenders near the signal caller, and both are road graders in the rushing attack. The Lobos are led by right guard Chris Estrella and left tackle Jarred Sylvester and return four starters from last year’s squad. New Mexico is 24th in the nation when it comes to rushing the football. They average 219.5 yards per game. That’s third in the Mountain West Conference behind only Air Force and Wyoming. These two squads seem pretty even across the board on offense. The biggest difference is turnover margin. While the Cowboys are a plus-6 on the season, New Mexico is 128th in the nation in this category at minus-10. The Lobo offense has thrown 11 interceptions and fumbles the ball five times. Wyoming failed to get a turnover against the Aztecs and were a minus-2 on the night. This could be the biggest difference in this one.