“I thought Wyoming was Halloween,” quipped Lobos football coach Bob Davie, referring to UNM’s ugly blowout loss the previous Saturday in Laramie, Wyo.
What, then, would one call the Lobos’ 24-10 loss to Utah State Saturday night at Dreamstyle Stadium?
The Lobos, self-destructing with four lost fumbles — one returned for a back-breaking fourth-quarter touchdown — and several costly penalties, lost a Mountain West Conference game they should have had every opportunity to win.
New Mexico outgained the Aggies by 97 yards and controlled the ball for almost 40 minutes, but could not overcome the litany of mistakes.
A crowd announced at 19,239 watched New Mexico fall to 3-6 on the season, 1-5 in Mountain West play. It is the Lobos’ fourth straight loss.
The past two games, the Lobos have committed 11 turnovers.
“Somewhere along the way here,” UNM coach Bob Davie said, “we’ve turned into kind of a hard-luck mistake team.
“… There may be some teams somewhere, I’m not sure who, that could get through the mistakes. But we just can’t, and it’s frustrating.”
To become bowl eligible for a third straight year, UNM would have to win its three remaining games. Two of those are on the road, Saturday at Texas A&M and Nov. 24 at San Diego State,
Three out of three, Davie said, wasn’t the arithmetic that was on his mind.
“Mathematically, it’s still an equation,” he said. “But the mathematics I’m thinking about are the seven turnovers last week and the four … this week.”
The Lobos did at least score their first touchdown since the Colorado State game two weeks ago when redshirt freshman Tevaka Tuioti scrambled for 34 yards and a score with 3:20 left in the game.
It was a game that gradually, inexorably, spun out of control.
As poorly as the Lobos had played to that point, it appeared they would get to the locker room for halftime trailing just 7-3 after a 42-yard Jason Sanders field goal with 2:08 left in the second quarter.
But on the second play of Utah State’s ensuing possession, Aggies running back LaJuan Hunt broke a 65-yard touchdown run.
Here’s an incredibly bizarre statistic: all seven of UNM’s first-half possessions reached Utah State territory — three of them started there — yet, the Lobos had only Sanders’ field goal to show for it.
Twice, UNM fumbled inside the Utah State 11-yard line. The Aggies turned another Lobos fumble into a 62-yard first-quarter touchdown drive, aided by 25 yards in UNM penalties.
The most damaging of the flags on that drive was an offsides call against cornerback Jalin Burrell on special teams. Utah State’s Dominik Eberle missed a 41-yard field goal attempt on the play, but the Aggies then got a first down on the resulting fourth-and-2 play. Hunt later scored from the 1-yard line, giving the Aggies a 7-0 lead.
The UNM defense did force two turnovers of its own — an interception by safety Stanley Barnwell on the first play of the game and a fumble recovery by nickel safety Jake Rothschiller in the second quarter.
Rothschiller’s recovery of a Jordan Love fumble set up Sanders’ field goal, but Barnwell’s interception went for naught when UNM quarterback Lamar Jordan fumbled the ball away at the Aggies 4.
The Lobos’ offensive futility continued in the second half.
After a 31-yard Love-to-Ron’Quavion Tarver pass set up a 28-yard Eberle field goal, making the score 17-3, the Lobos drove from their 25-yard line to the Utah State 7.
But an apparent Jordan-to-Patrick Reed TD pass was called back by an offensive pass interference penalty. The drive ended with a missed Sanders field goal from 47 yards.
More carnage: Tuioti, in relief of Jordan, was hit while attempting a pitch. The Aggies’ Davie Woodward scooped up the ball and returned the fumble 70 yards for a touchdown — giving Utah State a 24-3 lead.
Of UNM’s fumbles, senior running back Daryl Chestnut — who did not fumble — said they’re simply a part of the game.
“You get put in that position, and it just happens,” he said. “… Those guys were fighting for extra yards, trying to make a big play.”
Utah State improves to 5-5, 3-3 in Mountain West play.