Over the course of the past month and of the past week, three things regarding the University of New Mexico football team had been considered givens.
Saturday night, when the final gun sounded, the Lobos hadn’t given themselves a chance to win. They fell, 21-13, to Texas San-Antonio at University Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
An announced crowd of 26,311 watched UNM fail to protect a 13-0 lead, then give up a decisive 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
“We’re disappointed, but this isn’t totally unexpected to me,” Lobos coach Bob Davie said. “I knew this would be like it’s gonna be every week. We’re gonna have to scratch and claw. We’re gonna have to get better. We’re building.”
Those almost givens were the following:
One, that sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche was significantly improved as a passer.
Two, that the Lobos could run between the tackles with a veteran offensive line blocking for star running back Kasey Carrier.
Three, that junior running back Crusoe Gongbay, 25 pounds heavier than Carrier, would get some carries.
Saturday, Gautsche was 4-of-10 passing for 65 yards and a touchdown before leaving in the fourth quarter with concussion symptoms.
Gautsche’s touchdown throw, a 37-yarder to sophomore wide receiver Marquis Bundy, came on a first-and-10 play. But Gautsche misfired several times on deep throws in first-and-10 plays, putting the Lobos in unfavorable down-and-distance situations.
In the fourth quarter, with UNM trailing 14-13, Gautsche missed sophomore wide receiver Carlos Wiggins downfield on a first-and-10 play. The Lobos punted three plays later, and the Roadrunners then launched their 99-yard scoring drive.
Davie acknowledged the first-down incompletions put his offense in holes it couldn’t escape, but added, “You have to commit to do it. At some point, for us to be good and for us to be balanced on offense, we have to throw it.
“(But) when you throw it on first down and it’s incomplete, that’s the difference. When UTSA threw the ball on first down … they were efficient doing it. And it keeps you off balance.”
Carrier, who set a school record with 1,469 yards rushing last season, managed just 54 yards on 20 carries against the Roadrunners. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior failed to pick up the necessary short yardage several times in crucial situations.
Gongbay, a 6-foot, 210-pound junior who Davie had said earlier last week likely would play significant minutes, carried the ball once for 4 yards.
“It’s hard to take Kasey out,” Davie said. “Maybe we need to get a few more guys in there. Crusoe probably should play a little more.”
After UTSA’s 99-yard scoring drive, UNM backup quarterback Clayton Mitchem drove the Lobos from their 25-yard line to the UTSA 43. But the desperation drive ended with 1:06 left on a deflected Mitchem pass.
The Roadrunners ran out the clock from there.
The UNM defense, among the leakiest units in the nation last season, carried the offense for most of the game and produced one of the Lobos’ two touchdowns.
On a second down-and-3 at the UTSA 45, UNM linebacker Javarie Johnson separated the ball from running back Evans Okotcha. Lobos cornerback SaQwan Edwards, playing his first game on defense after having switched from wide receiver, caught the bobbled ball in midair and sprinted 45 yards for New Mexico’s first points of 2013.
A 2-point conversion attempt failed. Davie said afterward a two-point attempt after the Lobos’ first touchdown was part of the game plan.
Gautsche struggled throwing the ball for most of the first half. But, on a first down from the UTSA 37 in the second quarter, he found a wide-open Bundy for a touchdown. Justus Adams’ point-after made it 13-0 with 11:42 left in the half.
The New Mexico defense had bent but didn’t break for most of the first two quarters. But UTSA finally put together a crisp drive, marching 75 yards in 10 plays to trim UNM’s halftime lead to 13-7.
The Roadrunners took the lead in the third quarter with a six-play, 75-yard drive. The Lobos, repeatedly, could not answer.