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New Mexico makes strides in deep passing game

New Mexico coach Bob Davie says he has had his team scrimmaging more this preseason than at any time in his Lobo career.

Thursday was but one football practice, and one that had players in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, yet it could have served as a sampling of things to come for the University of New Mexico.

It was defined by deep passes, coach Bob Davie said.

The offense appeared to have more success on the execution, while the defense struggled to stop the Lobos’ deep connections.

Last year, to open the season against Incarnate Word, the Lobos’ first pass was a deep ball from quarterback Tevaka Tuioti to wide receiver Q’ Drennan that went for 40 yards. It was sort of symbolic that the Lobos were triple-option no more.

Yes, UNM finished 3-9 for the second straight season, while injuries and inconsistent play led to a shaky offense. But, it is expected that the Lobos will want to pass the ball much more this season in their second year in a spread-based attack.

“Deep balls are such a momentum builder for the offense and such a punch in the gut for the defense,” Davie said. “Our offense today, there were several deep balls that kind of broke the defense’s back. Credit to the offense (for) just throwing it and catching it at a really high level.”

The Lobos also spent a significant amount of time on deep passes Tuesday. Davie closed Wednesday’s practice, which turned out to be a 90-play scrimmage inside Dreamstyle Stadium.

The eighth-year UNM coach said there have been more scrimmages at this point in preseason than of any in his previous seven full camps.

There are many reasons for that, mainly because he wants to give everyone the opportunity to win starting spots.

Davie has yet to name a quarterback.

Today will be the first day Tuioti will be able to practice in full pads. He missed the first eight practices of preseason camp because he was with his family in California, where his grandfather has been ill.

“We’re going good against good, and it’s like we’re playing a game out here every day,” Davie said. “We’re giving someone the opportunity to win the job. We’re going at it full speed seeing who is going to win it. Somebody can move ahead.”

Davie said there has been some movement in that quarterback battle, but he would not disclose specifics. While Tuioti missed time, Davie did say that junior college transfer Brandt Hughes emerged as a contender to become the Lobos’ starter for their home opener against Sam Houston State on Aug. 31.

“We have to scrimmage more (than previous camps),” Davie said “You can do all the scripted things, all the inside runs, and make everything clean, but we all know you’re going to have to put the ball down and just play. Particularly with a young football team, and particularly with jobs up for grabs. How does a guy win a job unless you actually play and you have tackling?”

Davie said he is planning for the Lobos to scrimmage inside the stadium again on Saturday. He has been grateful there haven’t been any season-ending injuries.

“Knock on wood,” he added.

Elijah Lilly, the Lobos’ top returning receiver, did suffer another setback on Wednesday, however. Lilly, who dealt with a nagging hamstring during the spring and a hyperextended knee to open preseason camp, injured his shoulder while making a catch over the middle, Davie said.

Lilly, however, should be ready for the season opener.

Senior linebacker Alex Hart and senior defensive lineman Trent Sellers, who both suffered season-ending knee injuries last year, have been practicing with no setbacks, and Davie has not been holding them back.

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