In 2017, the New Mexico Lobos’ need for speed was glaringly evident.
Help is on the way.
Last month, UNM signee Cedric Patterson ran the 200 meters for Crosby (Texas) High School in 21.25 seconds. Patterson, a wide receiver, later placed fifth at the Texas Class 5A state championships, running 21.52.
Last week, Lobos signee Lawrence “L.O.” Johnson of Waunakee (Wis.) High School won the Badger North Conference title in both the 100 meters (11.01) and the 200 (22.59). Johnson, a running back, has personal bests of 10.78 and 21.95.
Donte Martin, another incoming freshman, has personal bests of 10.8 and 21.95. Martin is a defensive back from Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, Calif.
Speed, particularly on offense, had been a hallmark of the Lobos’ resurgence in 2015-16. In 2016, UNM had 27 plays from scrimmage of 40 yards or more. The Lobos went 9-4, with a victory over UTSA in the New Mexico Bowl, and averaged 37.8 points per game.
Last year, the Lobos had just 16 plays from scrimmage of 40 yards or more. They averaged 20.7 points per game and went 3-9.
Several factors, not just speed, were involved in last season’s drop-off. The offensive line didn’t perform as well as it had in 2016. Defenses found ways to bottle up UNM’s triple-option based offense that had been so effective in the past.
Still, only then-redshirt freshman slot receiver Jay Griffin IV displayed the kind of breakaway speed flashed by former Lobos Jhurell Pressley (2012-15) and Teriyon Gipson (2013-16). Griffin had three plays of 60 yards or more, two receiving and one rushing, and averaged 12 yards per touch.
At Huntsville (Texas) High School, Griffin ran a personal best of 21.17 seconds in the 200 meters. He’s had a 21.27 clocking as a Lobo.
Griffin sat out the 2016 season as a redshirt, as UNM prefers to do with its incoming freshmen. Given last year’s speed deficit, coach Bob Davie and his staff might want to consider getting Patterson and Johnson on the field sooner than later.
Even so, there was speed on the 2016 roster that wasn’t fully utilized.
In 2016, running back Tyrone Owens rushed for 1,097 yards and averaged 8 yards per carry as a sophomore. Last season, those numbers were 770 and 5.5.
Owens, a 10.8 sprinter at Manor (Texas) High School, had a lingering foot injury that restricted him early last season.
Two returnees, Elijah Lilly and Bryson Carroll, have made position changes that could lend speed to the offense.
Lilly, a 10.94 sprinter at Cajon High School in San Bernardino, Calif., has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns for UNM. In order to better to utilize his speed, he’s being moved from cornerback to wide receiver.
Carroll, a 10.81 sprinter at Roosevelt High School in San Antonio, Texas, is being moved from quarterback to running back. Carroll, who stands 5-foot-7, could be difficult for linebackers to see before he’s past them.
It should be noted, of course, that track speed and football speed, while obviously related, are not one and the same. The 40-yard dash, not the 100 or 200 meters, is football’s preferred measurement.
Gipson’s stats as a sprinter at Dallas’ Kimball High School were little better than pedestrian: 11.57 in the 100 meters and 23.85 in the 200. But he was a game-breaker for UNM, rarely if ever caught from behind.
Nonetheless, more speed on the roster can only be a good thing.
SPEAKING OF SPEED: Pressley has signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.
During his four seasons at UNM, Pressley rushed for 2,725 yards on 394 carries, an average of 6.9 yards per carry. He led the nation in yards per carry in 2004 at 9.5 while rushing for a team-leading 1,083 yards.
Pressley signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, but but was waived and claimed by Green Bay. He was with the Atlanta Falcons and briefly with the Jacksonville Jaguars but has not had a carry in a regular-season NFL game.
The CFL’s wider field should be an advantage for Pressley, who excelled at turning the corner.
EARLY EVALUATION: The Lobos have been placed 110th among the NCAA’s 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the Orlando Sentinel’s annual preseason rankings.
The Sentinel’s Iliana Limón Romero, a former Albuquerque Tribune sports writer, notes that the Lobos must overcome the distractions created by Davie’s 30-day suspension this spring as well as the lack of community interest reflected in last season’s poor attendance figures.
Improving on last year’s 3-9 record, she writes, “won’t be easy with a tough schedule and inexperienced team.”
Davie, Romero writes, “is unquestionably coaching to keep his job this year.”