Tonight, the University of New Mexico football team returns to the scene of its greatest triumph: Albertsons Stadium, where the Boise State Broncos have lost only four times in the past decade. One of those losses took place Nov. 14, 2015, when the Lobos beat the Broncos on their famed blue turf, 31-24.
That same night — actually the following afternoon in Melbourne, Australia — Albuquerque’s Holm pulled an even more stunning upset by defeating thought-to-be-invincible Ronda Rousey for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.
Whether true or not, it was said the Lobos learned of Holm’s victory during the game and drew inspiration from it.
To repeat the feat of two years ago, it appears UNM (1-1) will need to draw inspiration from somewhere. The Broncos (1-1), smarting from a 47-44 triple-overtime loss at Washington State last Saturday, are 14½-point favorites, per Pregame.com.
Yes, the Lobos were underdogs by a far greater margin (30 points) two years ago. But those Lobos entered that game, the 10th of the season, with a strong sense of identity. This year’s UNM team has yet to forge one.
“Who are we? What are we?” Lobos coach Bob Davie wondered after Saturday’s 30-28 loss to intrastate rival New Mexico State, a game in which UNM trailed by 25 points entering the fourth quarter.
The Lobos have neither run nor passed consistently during their first two games. The defense, which has eight first-year starters, ranks 112th nationally in passing yards allowed.
The Lobos, as well, must deal with the distraction of a report that surfaced Sunday to the effect that Davie is being investigated for alleged player mistreatment and drug-testing irregularities. Davie, reached via text by the Journal Wednesday evening, declined comment.
Whether this is a vintage Boise State team is yet to be determined, and the Broncos have question marks of their own.
Quarterback Brett Rypien, who in the past two years vs. UNM has passed for 897 yards (no typo) and seven touchdowns, took a hard hit in the first quarter of the Washington State game and was replaced by senior graduate transfer Montell Cozart.
Rypien is a classic pocket passer, Cozart a dual-threat quarterback whom UNM recruited after he opted to leave Kansas for his senior year. But if Rypien doesn’t play, Lobo free safety Bijon Parker said, the Boise State offense will change only a little.
“It matters a little bit,” Parker said. “They both play a little bit different style. But either way they go, it’s gonna be the same type of game plan. We’ve just got to get them down and get the receivers covered.”
The latter chore is something at which the Lobos failed miserably last year. Rypien was 21-of-28 passing for 391 yards and five touchdowns as the Broncos routed the Lobos 49-21 in Albuquerque. Boise State led 42-7 at halftime.
Did last year’s game satisfy the Broncos and their faithful from a revenge standpoint, given that the Lobos posed for a much-discussed team photo on the blue turf after their victory in 2015?
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin skirted the issue this week.
“It’s not really about revenge,” he said during a conference call with the Albuquerque media. “I think it’s playing a (Mountain West Mountain Division) opponent that we know is very good. We want to play our very best against them.”
Playing a conference opener at Boise State on a Thursday night, Davie said, is “exactly like I wanted to script it. I wanted to go to Boise for the first Mountain West game, just to see how good we are, and what really makes it a great challenge is we lost to New Mexico State. So we’ve got the script exactly like we wanted it.”
Yes, he was kidding.
New Mexico at Boise State
6 p.m., ESPN, 770 AM, 94.5 FM