It is fair to say that New Mexico could be 5-1 at this point in the season, but the Lobos are 3-3 and eager to show they are better than their record.
They have the perfect opportunity for that by bouncing back from a tough 20-18 loss at Colorado State and taking on a brutal three-game stretch on their schedule, featuring one-loss teams that are a combined 15-3 (Fresno State, at Utah State, San Diego State).
“The challenge heightens even more,” UNM coach Bob Davie said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “I do think we are an improving team.”
ELITE BULLDOGS: First up for the Lobos (1-1 in Mountain West Conference play) on their challenging three-game stretch is Fresno State, which ranks among the top teams in the nation in several categories.
The Bulldogs (5-1, 2-0), winners of four straight, are ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (13.5 points per game). They held Nevada and Wyoming to three points in each of the past two weeks.
They are tied for No. 2 in the nation in defensive touchdowns with four and tied for No. 2 in the nation in turnover margin (+1.83).
They are tied for fifth in the nation in sacks allowed with four and No. 9 in the nation in total defense, allowing 301.2 yards per game.
Davie says Fresno State is well-coached. For evidence, the Bullodgs are tied for No. 10 in the nation in fewest penalties (27) and No. 11 in penalty yards (240).
“It’s not so much the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes,” Davie said. “By that I mean, they have a solid tradition-rich program, they have really good players, they are really well-coached. … We get an opportunity the rest of the season to play some really good teams.”
CONFIDENT QB: For the past three weeks, Sheriron Jones has held court with the media on Tuesday, answering various questions.
This week, the junior transfer quarterback said he made mistakes that he felt cost the Lobos the game, not making the correct reads during plays, but vowed to improve.
Jones also wasn’t shy about his confidence level.
“I’m a little bit ahead of my time, as far as age,” said Jones, who has 955 yards and 12 touchdowns on 62-of-105 passing with six interceptions (zero picks the past two games) and 181 yards rushing. “I feel like I’m 28, but I’m only 22. A lot of people say that all the time. ‘You’re 22? How?’ I grew up very fast.”
Jones will face his stiffest test yet against the Bulldogs.
TIGHT ENDS: One of the plays on which Jones missed a read came at a critical point in the game against Colorado State, with UNM facing third-and-five while protecting a one-point lead with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining. A first down likely would have secured a victory.
Jones threw the ball to tight end Jeffrey Jones, who could not make the catch amid tight coverage. Jones should have thrown a swing pass to the running back, who was open, Davie said.
The Lobos were down to their third tight end against the Rams.
Marcus Williams (toe), a sophomore out of Cleveland High, did not play against the Rams, but Davie thinks he will be full speed by Saturday. Senior back-up tight end Brayden Dickey is cleared to play after missing the trip to Fort Collins with an illness, Davie said.
BIG TEST: Calvin Magee, UNM’s first-year offensive coordinator, knows Fresno State’s defense is the Lobos’ toughest challenge to date. UNM is in its first year in the spread offense and has been going to the air for its big plays.
Magee has called the first half of the season a learning process. Saturday was a setback in the sense that the Lobos missed opportunities. But Magee likes the way the Lobos are responding so far, leading up to Saturday’s home game.
“Yeah, I thought of we could be 5-1 right now, and it sucks,” Magee said. “It really does, but that’s part of learning how to win and learning how to keep competing. The one thing is, we are still competing. Guys are coming everyday and still working hard.”
JENKINS SAYS: Senior right guard Aaron Jenkins, a team captain, said the mood in the locker room after the loss to Colorado State was, “rough,” and that he “shed a tear or two.”
“If you go back and look at the film, it’s kind of disgusting to look at because we missed so many open guys,” Jenkins said. “We had a lot of missed opportunities that could’ve been prevented. We learned from our mistakes and we continue to improve every single week. Hopefully we can go out there and put everything together against Fresno State.”
The UNM offensive line has been playing well this season, helping with the Lobos’ explosive plays in the passing game. But the Bulldogs will be a big challenge.
“They have an amazing defense, one of the best in the country,” Jenkins said. “But I feel like if we just execute, stay on track, keep our gaps and play as a unit, we could dominate those guys up front.”