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QB Mitchem given an opportunity

Clayton Mitchem will step in for starting quarterback Cole Gautsche on Saturday against UTEP. Gautsche is suffering from concussion symptoms. (jim thompson/journal)
Clayton Mitchem will step in for starting quarterback Cole Gautsche on Saturday against UTEP. Gautsche is suffering from concussion symptoms. (jim thompson/journal)
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Tom Brady … Colin Kaepernick … Clayton Mitchem?

Bob Davie is leaving that door unlocked. It’s up
to Mitchem, he said, to open it. Mitchem, the New Mexico Lobos’
backup quarterback, is scheduled to make his first start Saturday
at UTEP in place of Cole Gautsche.

Gautsche, who shared time with senior B.R. Holbrook
last year as a freshman, emerged from spring practice and preseason
workouts as the starting quarterback. But Gautsche took some blows
to the head in last week’s opener against UTSA and has been ruled
out for the UTEP game. There’s been a long-held policy in football,
and in other sports, that a player doesn’t lose his starting job
because of injury. No matter how well the backup plays in the
starter’s absence, the starter becomes the starter again when he
returns. Davie, while expressing the utmost respect and concern for
Gautsche, not rooting for either quarterback over the other, has no
such policy. “It’s whoever gives us the best chance to win,” Davie
said on Tuesday at UNM’s weekly fall sports news conference. “…
(It’s) who’s the best guy and how does that help us in this game
that we’re trying to win or this play we’re trying to execute.”
That’s the approach New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick took
in 2001, when Brady replaced injured quarterback Drew Bledsoe and
performed brilliantly. Brady became the starter, Bledsoe the
backup. Last season, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh did the
same after Alex Smith got hurt and Kaepernick played sensationally.
Davie isn’t saying that will happen at UNM. He is saying this is
Mitchem’s opportunity to make it happen. Mitchem has all the talent
necessary, Davie said. But, at quarterback, talent isn’t enough.
“We’ll find out if he is the guy,” Davie said. “… You recruit
these guys, and at some point they have to play and some of them
have the magic. “You’d better find a guy that has the magic,
right?” Mitchem, a junior-college transfer, 6-foot-1 and 183
pounds, passed for 2,435 yards and ran for 728 yards last season at
Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Okla. He’s
acknowledged to be a better pure passer than Gautsche but has far
less experience running UNM’s offense. Gautsche, 6-4 and 223
pounds, rushed for 118 yards on 16 carries in last Saturday’s 21-13
loss to UTSA. He was 4-of-12 passing for 65 yards and one
touchdown. After Gautsche’s departure, Mitchem completed two of
five passes for 19 yards and rushed three times for 8 yards.

THE OTHER QB: Jameill Showers, a transfer from Texas A&M, is
scheduled to start at quarterback for UTEP. In his two years at
A&M, he backed up Ryan Tannehill – now the starting
quarterback for the Miami Dolphins – and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner
Johnny Manziel. As an understudy, Showers completed 31 of 49 passes
for 359 yards and two touchdowns. “We know he’s really talented,”
Davie said. “We know they’re excited about him.” Showers is
eligible this fall, without having sat out a year as a transfer,
because he already has graduated.

PUNT PRAISE: Davie had kind words
for senior punter Ben Skaer, who punted seven times for an average
of 47 yards against UTSA. But Davie also praised the efforts of
first-year long snapper Steven Romero and of punt-team “gunner”
Chase Clayton, who downed a Skaer punt at the UTSA 1-yard line. The
entire unit, Davie said, “was about as good as I’ve (seen).”

PROTECTING GAUTSCHE: Regarding the helmet-to-helmet shots that have
sidelined Gautsche, Davie said he has sent a tape to the Mountain
West Conference. The Mountain West, he said, relayed the tape to
Conference USA “on some things we thought were questionable.” The
officiating crew for the UTSA game was predominantly from
Conference USA, of which UTSA is a member.

IT’S THE SUN BOWL:
Saturday’s forecast in El Paso is for relatively mild temperatures,
topping out in the mid- to high 80s. But first-year Miners coach
Sean Kugler is taking no chances, moving his team to the
better-shaded west sideline and leaving the Lobos staring into the
early-evening sun. Davie said the Lobos also have agreed to wear
their home red jerseys, allowing the Miners to wear white. “That’s
fine, whatever they want to do. We just want to make sure they’re
comfortable,” Davie joked.

Saturday
New Mexico at UTEP, 6 p.m. Fox College Sports, 770 AM

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