ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Contact is inevitable in football, regardless of any attempts to limit it.
And where there’s contact, there are injuries.
Saturday, during an hour-and-a-half, 80-play scrimmage at University Stadium, a leg injury to starting quarterback Cole Gautsche overshadowed a strong performance from the New Mexico Lobos’ defense.
Lobos coach Bob Davie said Gautsche’s injury was a hamstring pull that might be serious enough to keep the junior quarterback on the sidelines for the remainder of spring practice.
Davie preferred to accentuate the positive.
“It’s a chance for (backup quarterbacks) Clayton Mitchem and Lamar Jordan and Caleb (Kimbro) to get the rest of the reps,” he said.
Gautsche’s injury occurred at the end of one of the few big plays the UNM offense was able to muster during the workout.
The scrimmage featured full contact, but quarterbacks were exempt from being tackled. Gautsche had broken a 43-yard run on an option play, was pushed, not tackled, and fell to the ground out of bounds.
The former Cleveland Storm star lay on the ground for several minutes, then was helped up. Favoring his left leg, he watched the rest of the practice from the east sideline.
Meanwhile, the defense dominated most of the workout.
“We have a competitive point system we keep,” Davie said. “From that standpoint, the defense won. But in reality, the offense left some plays on the field. There were some open receivers (that were missed), the offense turned the ball over. … And the offense had some penalties. So overall, I would say it was sloppy.
“I think the level of play (on offense) probably wasn’t as good as it’s been in practice (previously this spring).”
Davie, however, was pleased with the defense.
“I think you can see our defensive coaches’ personality on that,” he said. “… We probably have a little more suddenness on defense, maybe a little more explosiveness.
“Even though the offense was sloppy, there haven’t been many times the defense has beaten the offense in practice. From that standpoint, they probably need the confidence a little more than the offense does.”
Several Lobo defenders – among them safety Brandon Branch, defensive end Nik D’Avanzo, nose tackle Dominic Twitty, and outside linebackers Javarie Johnson and Richard Winston – had tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Senior cornerback Donnie Duncan returned a fumble 65 yards for a touchdown, scoring big points for the defense.
Winston, a junior from Chandler, Ariz., has been shifted from “sam” linebacker to outside rush linebacker. Johnson, the starting rush linebacker the past two years, has been moved to the sam.
“I’m loving (the change),” said Winston, a 6-foot-3, 234-pounder. “It fits more into the way I play. I’m not as quick-twitch as some of our other players, but I’ve got long arms and put on some weight during the offseason that’s helped me better at the rush position.”
On the inside, junior college linebacker Ryan Langford, 6-3 and 223, has stepped in to the inside “will” linebacker spot occupied by Dallas Bollema the past several seasons.
“He gives us some height and some range,” Davie said of Langford. “He can run.”
Langford, a December graduate of Iowa Western Community College, believes participation in spring practice should give him a decided edge come the fall.
“It’s crucial that I’m here in the spring,” he said. “That way, I’m gonna learn the defense, learn to play with everybody on the team.
“It’s getting easier each day, the more we watch film and the more we practice.”
The offense, meanwhile, crossed the goal line only twice Saturday – though the controlled nature of the scrimmage might have prevented another score or two.
Walk-on running back Wendell Carter broke a 53-yard touchdown run up the middle. Senior running back Crusoe Gongbay scored from 9 yards out, set up by Gautsche’s long run.
The Lobos’ passing game rarely got untracked.
Senior quarterback Clayton Mitchem beat a blitz, hitting sophomore wide receiver Dameon Gamblin for 54 yards.
Kimbro, a redshirt freshman, found walk-on wide receiver Michael Walsh for a 21-yard gain but threw a near-interception later on that drive.
Perhaps 150 people watched Saturday’s practice, the first of the spring that was open to the public.
After the practice, Lobos players interacted with hundreds of kids at UNM’s annual Youth Experience.