The question asked of Bob Davie, in its essence, was this.
Was he not thrilled with the heart and resilience his New Mexico Lobos displayed Saturday night in rallying from a 25-point deficit and almost pulling off a dramatic comeback victory?
Davie’s response, in its essence, was this: The game being played was football, not horseshoes.
And even in that fourth-quarter rally against New Mexico State, he said, something vitally important was missing:
The running game.
Fourth-quarter thrills notwithstanding, Davie said, the Lobos’ first two games — a 38-14 victory over Abilene Christian and a 30-28 loss to New Mexico State — have set off some alarms.
Yes, Davie said, he was pleased with the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Tevaka Tuioti and redshirt freshman slot receiver Jay Griffin in generating 23 fourth-quarter points against NMSU. He was happy to see his defense, punctured for 30 points in the game’s first three quarters, hold the Aggies scoreless the rest of the way.
“I love the fact that Tevaka came in (relieving starting quarterback Lamar Jordan) and gave us a spark, (that) Jay came in and gave us a spark,” Davie said after Tuesday’s practice in preparation for Thursday night’s game at Boise State. “Defensively, we played much better (in the fourth quarter). All that’s great, but that really wasn’t consistent UNM football that brought us back into the game.
“It was the heart of UNM football, and the continue-to-fight of UNM football. But from an execution-football brand identity, let’s not kid ourselves. It wasn’t that.”
For Davie, Lobo football always begins with the run. New Mexico led the nation in rushing yards per game last year and has never finished outside the national top 10 in that department since Davie took over the program.
After two games, one against a team from a lower NCAA subdivision and one against a team that ranked 118th in rush defense last fall, the Lobos are No. 40 in the statistic that has defined them the past five years.
“There’s concern,” Davie said, “because we’re not what we’ve been right now.”
Part of the problem, he said, lies in the way opposing defenses are aligning to frustrate UNM’s triple option. Both Abilene Christian and New Mexico State penetrated wide with their defensive ends, frustrating the keep and pitch options.
The quarterback run, a vital part of UNM’s attack in the past, has been missing in action. Jordan rushed for 739 yards last year with a 6.5-yard average per carry. After two games this fall, his totals are 44 yards on 11 carries.
That being the case, the dive — the run between the tackles — should be available.
It hasn’t been.
The offensive line, missing two full-time starters, has yet to solidify as a unit. That process will take time, Davie said.
“We’ve got some guys that we need to continue to develop, and they need game reps,” he said. “And it’s not like the ones (the first-team offensive linemen) are that far ahead of the twos.”
Even in the midst of that fourth-quarter rally against NMSU, Davie said, the running game’s absence was felt.
Three times, the Lobos attempted two-point conversions. All three times, unable to trust the ground game to cross the goal line from 3 yards out, they threw instead.
Two out of three times, they were unsuccessful — including one that would have tied the score at 30 and possibly sent the game to overtime.
“Is that really us?” Davie asked rhetorically. “So, I’ve got concerns right now.”
Yet, he also has hope.
“One thing we’ve done every year, I think, is improve (as the season progresses),” he said.
“We’re in the middle of it right now with some young guys that just got hit in the mouth. We’ve got to be able to bounce back and improve.”
UNM at Boise State
6 p.m., ESPN, 770 AM