When Bob Davie took over this team, he inherited a depleted roster and a deflated program. Davie’s worked hard to try to improve both the talent and the morale surrounding this Lobos team. Now, entering his fourth year, it’s time to stop rebuilding and time to start winning. Fortunately, one of the more talented New Mexico teams in recent memory meets a pretty easy schedule, so .500 should be an attainable goal for a team that hasn’t reached a bowl game since 2007.
Georgia Tech, Navy and the rest of the service academies may be the most noted triple option teams, but just because New Mexico runs their version out of the Pistol doesn’t mean they should get left out. The Lobos finished 5th in rushing yards per game last season. With their top two running backs from last season returning, it’s a safe bet that New Mexico can match or even top that mark this season.
Teriyon Gipson and Jhurrell Pressley were monsters in the triple option last year. Gipson rushed for 809 yards and 8 touchdowns at a solid 5.4 yards per carry. Pressley was more explosive with 1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns on a whopping 9.5 yards per carry. On over 100 carries, it is downright frightening that this guy was almost averaging a first down per carry. These two are back and ready to wreak havoc.
They’ll be running behind a fairly experienced line too. First team All-MWC center LaMar Bratton is gone, as is RG Jamal Price, but four other linemen return with twelve or more career starts. The leader of that group is RT Garrett Adcock who has 19 career starts.
At quarterback, Davie is in that rare and unenviable position of deciding if his incumbent quarterback has earned the right to continue starting. Lamar Jordan was fairly pedestrian last season, and the Lobos have a highly touted transfer to consider. Austin Apodaca is now in Albuquerque after starting his career at Washington State then transferring to Mesa Community College for a year. Many believe that Apodaca will overtake Jordan for the starting role, but as a “pro-style” quarterback a key for him will be to get used to the option attack that New Mexico employs.
No matter who’s at quarterback, they will have to find some new targets. Reece White should start at tight end despite only catching eight passes at the position last year. In fact, Teriyon Gipson is the only returning member of this team who caught more than 10 passes all of last season.
While the offense at least has the running game to fall back on, across the board improvements will be necessary on defense if this team is to accomplish its goals. Linebacker seems to be the stronger unit on the defense, so they will need to step up to facilitate growth on both the secondary and the line. Dakota Cox, Kimmie Carson, and Ryan Langford were all fairly productive last year, and the move to a 3-3-5 should allow them to be aggressive and free up space for these three to continue to make plays.
Markel Byrd and Jadon Boatright are the only returning starters in the secondary. Byrd at safety and Boatright at cornerback. However, they will probably be joined in the secondary by three guys who played frequently last season: Ryan Santos, Cranston Jones, and Ricky Bennett. The only problem is that none of these five guys were really outstanding last year, so a decent amount of improvement would certainly help. The good news is that of this group only Jones is a senior so they should be a pretty cohesive unit for the next couple of years.
The defensive line also returns two starters with Nik D’Avanzo and two nose tackles who started last season returning to the three-man front. D’Avanzo was solid at the end spot last season recording 7 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Cole Juarez started the first six games at nose tackle before suffering a knee injury, and William Udeh took over for him after the injury. Both are back this season. Sophomore Garrett Hughes is expected to step in at the other end spot. Hughes only recorded two tackles last season, but the 3-star sophomore out of Corona, California has apparently impressed in spring and summer ball.
Other than road trips to Arizona State and Nevada, New Mexico doesn’t play anyone else that finished in the F/+ top 100 last season. So, this schedule is manageable, and even that ranks pretty highly on the understatement of the preview season list. Now is the time for Davie to get this team back to a bowl game. However, if they drop a game they shouldn’t in the first two months of the season, it won’t be easy, even at home, to take a game from Utah State, Colorado State or Air Force. Also, a road trip to Boise in November doesn’t look like a strong opportunity either.
Credit Cover Photo to Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports