LAS VEGAS, Nev. — When Sheriron Jones came to New Mexico he had every intention of winning the quarterback job.
Of course, he hit some rough patches, first with an academic complication that forced him to finish up junior college course work. He ended up coming to UNM in June instead of January. He then had to deal with a hamstring injury in August. He entered the season as the Lobos’ third-string quarterback.
He knows he is much more than that.
Jones showed that against UNLV, leading the Lobos, 8-point underdogs, to an impressive, 50-14 victory in a Mountain West Conference opener in front of an announced 18,949 at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday.
Jones threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns on 13-of-20 passing and led the Lobos (3-2, 1-0) with 72 yards rushing on nine carries. Meanwhile, the UNM defense jumped all over the Rebels, who had sophomore transfer quarterback Max Gilliam making his first start because Armani Rogers was out with a toe injury.
UNM held UNLV to 166 yards offensively, just 23 in the first half. The Lobos were remarkably balanced on offense with 252 yards rushing and 250 yards passing.
“He’s starting to let his ability really take over, instead of fighting it robotically as he’s learning the system,” UNM coach Bob Davie said of Jones. “He’s talented. We did a good job pass protection, too. We also had a good mix of run and pass.”
Jones said he felt he was in a great rhythm and having fun. The deep, back-shoulder fade passes that hurt the Lobos last week when Liberty shocked them with a 52-43 defeat? Davie said UNM turned around and used that against UNLV (2-3, 0-1) . The connection was from Jones to redshirt senior wide receiver Delane Hart-Johnson, who led the Lobos with 80 yards and one touchdown on six catches.
The Lobo defense did not allow a first down until just under two minutes were left in the first half. The Lobos led 29-0 at halftime, scoring all 29 points in the second quarter, a school record for most points in a period.
Evahelotu Tohi, the 6-foot-2, 227-pound senior linebacker who has stepped up with the loss of the injured Alex Hart, intercepted Gilliam’s pass late in the first quarter to set up the Lobos’ first touchdown. Tohi returned it 35 yards to the UNLV 14. Four plays later, Zahneer Shuler, UNM’s 6-1, 232-pound running back, took it in from one yard out for the first of his two TDs.
“We’re hungry,” Tohi said. “We all want the same thing. We all want to go to a bowl game. Right now we are 1-0 in conference and it’s time to eat.”
Jones said Saturday’s win sets the tone for the rest of the season, which continues this coming Saturday at Colorado State. “We’re going to have a lot of fun,” he said. “There’s going to be some fun games. We’re going to execute. It’s going to be a step-by-step thing, but we’re going to have some fun.”
Jones threw for two TDs in each half. He hit Elijah Lilly for a 74-yarder with 2:56 left in the first half that gave UNM a 22-0 lead. He connected with Anselem Umeh for a 26-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left before halftime that put the Lobos up 29-0.
Emmanuel Harris caught a 33-yard TD pass. Hart-Johnson outmuscled his defender on a high pass for an 11-yard score with 11:07 left in the fourth quarter.
At that point the Lobos led 43-7. Soon, Jones was able to sit as freshman Trae Hall saw some time.
Hall wasn’t the only quarterback who played. Senior wide receiver Patrick Reed was used on some running and option plays. Reed fumbled twice, one going out of bounds and the other he recovered.
Still, Davie was pleased the offense was able to be creative because he prefers that Jones not run the ball too often.
The Rebels could have used their running quarterback, Rogers, who led the team with 548 yards rushing, 122 per game.
UNLV coach Tony Sanchez was disappointed with the Rebels’ effort.
“We knew we are a better football team than that, but it doesn’t feel like that right now,” said Sanchez, whose team was coming off an open date. “Walking off the field, we’re embarrassed, I’m embarrassed … I don’t know since I’ve been here if I’ve ever been embarrassed, and we were embarrassed right there.”