ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Saturday against Wyoming, the New Mexico Lobos gained only 24 fewer yards than top-ranked Oregon did against California later in the day.
Yet, the Lobos scored 36 fewer points against the Cowboys than the Ducks did against the Bears.
It’s all about miles to the gallon.
Nevada at UNM, 1:30 p.m., Comcast, 770 AM
During their 28-23 loss at University Stadium, the Lobos gained 551 yards. They had 28 first downs, controlled the ball for more than 38 of 60 minutes and converted a respectable, if not great, five of 13 third-down situations.
And yet, they came up empty on eight of 12 possessions.
“That’s kind of how it’s been all year,” Lobos coach Bob Davie said on Sunday. “We put up those kinds of numbers, but we don’t score a lot of points.”
Against the Cowboys, UNM (4-7 overall, 1-5 in Mountain West Conference play) had trouble overcoming bad to mediocre field position; the Lobos’ average starting point was their own 23-yard line.
Largely because the defense produced no turnovers, New Mexico never started a drive on the Wyoming side of the 50-yard line.
The Cowboys’ starting field position was almost identical, but field position is no obstacle when you’re throwing touchdown passes of 81 and 64 yards.
“I guess our biggest problem (on defense),” Davie said, “is when something bad happens, and something bad is always gonna happen, we can’t compensate for it.
“There’s no margin of error, period. When the ball gets out, it’s gone. When a defensive back is out of position, it’s a home run against us.”
Offensively, the Lobos had their share of big plays – four of 35 yards or more – yet struggled to go the length of the field.
After the Cowboys sniffed out a fake field goal on UNM’s first offensive series, the Lobos teased a crowd announced at 17,839 by driving 96 yards on 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead early in the third quarter.
But their next five possessions ended with three punts, a missed Justus Adams 34-yard field goal – wide right, not helped by a strong crosswind – and a fumble by freshman running back David Anaya.
The Lobos gained 166 yards and eight first downs on those five series but scored no points.
Davie would not second-guess the decision to try the fake field goal from the Wyoming 24, noting that it would have been a 41-yard attempt into that crosswind. But, he said, “the missed field goal (at the end of the first half) really hurt, just going in at halftime not getting any points out of it.”
After Anaya’s lost fumble, the Lobos got a quick defensive stop and a 52-yard Cole Gautsche-to-Ty Kirk touchdown pass. On their next series, they drove 77 yards in 12 plays to set up a 20-yard Adams field goal.
But with the game in the balance, a disputed personal-foul penalty forced a punt. After a defensive stop, four Gautsche incompletions sealed the victory for the Cowboys.
Because his team’s big-play potential is limited, Davie said, missed opportunities are magnified.
“There is no margin for error,” he repeated – on either side of the ball.
THE GAUTSCHE FILE: Early last week, Davie had talked about lightening the work load for his freshman quarterback after he’d wilted a bit during the previous week’s 35-7 loss at UNLV.
Instead, Gautsche took 77 of 78 offensive snaps – leaving the game only when he had a shoe come off.
The problem was, Davie said, Gautsche was playing too well: 149 yards rushing and 155 yards passing, with two touchdowns through the air.
“Cole Gautsche was outstanding,” Davie said. “You’d like to sometimes wish he was faster and he could take it the distance, but overall, he was outstanding, and I think gained some confidence in the passing game.”
CREDIT THE OTHER GUY: The main reason the UNM defense produced no turnovers, Davie said, was because Wyoming sophomore quarterback Brett Smith made no mistakes.
Smith completed 20 of 32 passes for 374 yards and four touchdowns. He was sacked three times, pressured several other times, but never put the ball up for grabs.
“He’s impressive,” Davie said. “He made some plays.”
LINEUP CHANGES: True freshman cornerback Cranston Jones made the first start of his career on Saturday, moving ahead of senior Destry Berry.
Sophomore Jamal Price played most of the game at right guard in place of true freshman Garrett Adcock and sophomore Calvin McDowney.
Senior A.J. Butler moved from inside linebacker and started at “sam” outside linebacker in place of the injured Rashad Rainey and ahead of sophomore Tevin Newman.
STAT SHEET: The Lobos remained in the No. 7 spot nationally in rushing offense at 311.5 yards per game. Carrier again this week is fifth as an individual with 126.5 yards per game.
After controlling the ball for more than 38 minutes against Wyoming, New Mexico remains No. 1 in average time of possession at 34:38. The Lobos rank 15th in fewest penalty yards assessed (37.36 per game) and 16th in turnover margin (plus-10 for 11 games).
The Lobos’ outburst of 155 yards through the air wasn’t enough to get them out of the 120th and last spot in passing offense at 62.73 yards per game. It’s worth noting that the 117th, 118th and 119th positions are occupied in order by Air Force, Navy and Army – all, like UNM, option-offense teams.
TOP FROSH: Davie wondered out loud after Saturday’s game whether other freshmen in the Mountain West were having the kind of season Gautsche’s having.
The answer is yes. If balloting for freshman of the year were held today, Fresno State wide receiver Davante Adams – the conference leader in receptions (80) and receiving yards (1,027) – likely would be the winner. Gautsche and Colorado State linebacker Cory James (7 1/2 sacks) would appear to be the only other contenders.
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal