This is hold-the-rope time for the New Mexico football team.
The Lobos are coming off a potentially confidence-sapping, 35-7 loss to a UNLV team that had only one victory entering last Saturday’s game.
Over its last six quarters, UNM has been outscored 70-15 by UNLV and Fresno State.
Three weeks ago, flying home from Hawaii, they were a 4-3 football team. They flew back from Vegas at 4-6.
They’ve played 10 weeks in a row, on their way to 13 straight: no respite for one of the thinnest rosters in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks.
For UNM’s veteran players, there could be footsteps — here-we-go-again echoes of a 3-33 past. For the newcomers, it’s new, unfamiliar and potentially scary territory.
Yet, coach Bob Davie said on Sunday, that territory is almost precisely where he expected this team to be in November when he looked ahead in August.
“It’s all those things that you thought about,” he said, “when you thought about 13 straight games, when you thought about seven games on the road, … when you thought about the lowest number of scholarships in the country.
“It’s what you thought it would be when you looked at it before the season, it really is. It shouldn’t take anyone by surprise; it doesn’t take me by surprise.”
In brief and somewhat reluctant postgame interviews in Las Vegas, senior safety Matt Raymer and true freshman quarterback Cole Gautsche expressed and exuded more disappointment than UNM players had after previous defeats – even early season blowouts at the hands of Texas and Texas Tech.
Those lopsided defeats, back then, were predictable. But this, a loss by four touchdowns to a 1-8 (now 2-8) UNLV team?
Yet, neither coach nor players believe anyone’s ready to let go of the rope.
“It’s definitely not the end of the season,” said Raymer, who had an interception and led the Lobos with nine total tackles. “We still have three games left, and we’ve got to come out with all our might and all the fight we have.”
Davie believes there’s plenty of fight left in his team.
“We’ve still got a lot of improvement to make,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.
“I’m still looking short-term. How do we improve from Saturday? That’s it.”
THE CARRIER FACTOR: Lobos running back Kasey Carrier had rushed for 826 yards with a 7.1-yard average per carry, mostly between the tackles, in his past four games. Saturday at UNLV, the corresponding figures were 52 yards and a 2.9-yard average.
Carrier had been limited in practice last week by a sore hamstring. The junior running back said the hamstring didn’t bother him during the UNLV game.
Davie said the UNLV interior defense was surprisingly stout. Gautsche said the Rebels were cagey, as well.
“My read keys were telling me to give it to (Carrier), but then he was getting stopped,” Gautsche said. “They did a good job with that.”
The Rebels couldn’t take away both the inside run and the perimeter, and the Lobos had considerable success running outside on the option. But with the exception of a beautifully executed, nine-play, 77-yard drive in the quarter, no points resulted from a 307-yard output on the ground.
“If we can sustain our blocks a little bit longer, we have some opportunities for some really big plays,” Davie said.
THE BOWL QUESTION: Since the Oct. 6 victory over Texas State that evened UNM’s record to 3-3, Davie has taken questions about a possible bowl bid almost every week. The Lobos need seven victories to become bowl eligible.
Typically, Davie has brushed off those questions. But Sunday, the mathematics having gotten so simple, he gave the subject some time.
“We have three games left,” he said, “and we need to win all three. So, for whatever it’s worthy, we have a shot. … It’s still out there; it’s still a goal for us.”
STAT SHEET: Carrier dropped from second to seventh among NCAA FBS rushers with an average of 128.4 per game. The Lobos remained fifth in rushing as a team with 303 per game and took over the No. 1 spot in average time of possession at 34 minutes, 16 seconds.
The UNM defense ranks 94th of 120 FBS teams with an average yield of 444 yards. The Lobos remain 120th and last in passing offense at 53.5 yards per game.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal