ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Opening week is a time of uncertainty for any college football team, even a prohibitive favorite.
The New Mexico Lobos are not that, by the way, rated just a three- to four-point favorite for Saturday’s season opener at home against Texas-San Antonio.
That’s why Lobos coach Bob Davie has taken every opportunity to point out his team’s situation might be even more uncertain than most, given the lack of experience that pervades the roster.
Still, there’s one thing Davie is counting on as a certainty – not a surf-meets-the-shore certainty, perhaps, but close.
“I’m most confident,” Davie said at Tuesday’s UNM fall sports luncheon, “that our offensive line and (star running back) Kasey Carrier can line up and run the ball.”
The Lobos did just that last season, finishing fifth among NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing with an average of 301 yards per game. Carrier ranked 12th nationally en route to a school-record 1,469 yards on the season.
Carrier returns, as do several other talented running backs.
No reduction in Carrier’s workload, 255 carries last year, is expected. But Davie said he’s eager to see what junior Crusoe Gongbay, the team’s leading rusher as a freshman in 2011, can bring to the game in 2013.
“I’m really anxious to watch (Gongbay) play,” Davie said. “Kasey will be the guy, but Crusoe’s going to play.
“A lot of (running backs) are going to play. We’re going to mix some guys in there in different roles at the running back position.”
Carrier, Gongbay, et al., go nowhere without the big guys in front. No problem; the five offensive linemen scheduled to start against UTSA have started a combined 98 games as Lobos.
The Lobos do all of this out of an option-based, pistol-formation offensive scheme that’s guaranteed to keep defensive coordinators up into the wee hours.
Thus, with all the talk last spring and this month about the Lobos’ necessity to improve their passing game – they absolutely must, if they’re to improve on last season’s 4-9 record – the ground game remains the foundation.
“And it’ll come back to that at the end of the game,” Davie said. “That’s still going to be how we win the game, is to line up and run the ball.”
Now, about that …
In UTSA, the Lobos will be facing a defense that allowed its opponents just 108 rushing yards per game and an average of 3.3 yards per carry last season.
Those figures could be deceiving, in that UTSA last year was in transition from the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision to the FBS. All of the Roadrunners’ 2012 nonconference games were against FCS schools.
In FBS competition, UTSA gave up 301 rushing yards to Rice. Still, the Roadrunners allowed New Mexico State (a team they defeated by a wider margin, 21 points, than UNM did) just 54 rushing yards on 32 carries.
Davie’s not saying running the ball against UTSA will be easy.
“They’re pretty square, and they’re pretty stout in there,” he said. “They don’t make mistakes on defense.”
No, he’s just saying that, easy or not, it needs to happen.
For all the apparent improvement by quarterback Cole Gautsche in the passing game since last season, this is still a UNM team that must run the ball if it expects to win.
“I know we don’t throw that well,” Davie said, “to just say, ‘OK, we’re gonna throw the ball because they’re taking away the run.”
Lobos offensive line coach Jason Lenzmeier said he fully expects the Roadrunners to crowd the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop the run and dare the Lobos to pass.
He and his troops, he said, don’t care.
“All my guys think about,” Lenzmeier said, “is taking pride in blocking guys and moving them. That’s it.
“The scheme is the scheme. The triple-option part of it, no doubt, it’s hard to defend. But these guys take pride in the run game and getting those dives inside, sitting up, making blocks and playing hard. That’s what we’ve built this whole thing on.”
THE QB SITUATION: Gautsche is unquestionably the starter at quarterback, Davie said, but added that junior college transfer Clayton Mitchem will play.
“(Mitchem’s) too talented not to play, but Cole doesn’t have to look over his shoulder, like who’s warming up in the bullpen,” he said.
Walk-on David Vega, Davie said, has to this point edged out fellow junior Quinton McCown for the No. 3 quarterback spot.
PROMOTIONS: The first 2,500 fans to enter University Stadium on Saturday will be presented with a Bob Davie bobblehead doll.
“It’s my first,” Davie said. “… I guess the No. 1 goal is that the bobblehead’s not used for target practice (after the game).”
A postgame fireworks show is also planned.