*This corrects an earlier version that incorrectly reported that UNM’s football team is staying at UNLV student housing. The Lobos are staying at a hotel. They are using Sam Boyd Stadium for practices.
Danny Gonzales hasn’t been one for making excuses during his first year as University New Mexico coach that has had myriad challenges when trying to build a program amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, Gonzales acknowledged that the lack of full-contact practices has made a difference in his quest to have the Lobos play an aggressive, nasty and violent brand of football.
During UNM’s 38-21 loss at San Jose State on Saturday night, Gonzales saw that the Lobos lacked consistent aggression. They didn’t have that certain edge he desires.
Of course there were some positives he gathered from the game, but he said they have a long way to go when it comes to meeting his standard.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten my tail whooped that bad on defense,” Gonzales said. “Part of that is ability. Part of that is (the Spartans) did a nice job. We’ve gotta continue to be creative and innovative and find a way to get our team best prepared to play Hawaii.”
The Lobos have been relegated to practicing in groups no larger than five due to the prevalence of COVID-19 in Bernalillo County and the resulting public health orders in New Mexico. The rising number in positive cases for the coronavirus caused UNM to cancel its initial season opener at Colorado State that was scheduled for Oct. 24. Saturday’s game against SJSU was originally scheduled to be played in Albuquerque. But the game was relocated last week.
This week, the Lobos are traveling to Las Vegas, Nevada, to prepare for their game at Hawaii on Saturday.
After the loss to SJSU, UNM came back to Albuquerque and went through testing for the coronavirus on Sunday morning. The Lobos are scheduled to leave for Las Vegas on Monday.
They are training in Las Vegas because they’re required to quarantine in Albuquerque after traveling to California.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said Friday that the Lobos have partnered with UNLV to allow New Mexico players and coaches use of Sam Boyd Stadium, the former home of the Runnin’ Rebels’ football program.
UNLV now plays in Allegiant Stadium, the brand-new 65,000-seat, $1.8 billion home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.
“They don’t care,” Gonzales said of his players’ reaction to training in Las Vegas. “They want to play ball.”
Gonzales said he continues to be grateful for UNM President Garnett Stokes, Nuñez and administration for their support of the football program. He said that when he was hired Stokes and Nuñez told him they would do all that they can to help build a championship football program.
Gonzales said Stokes and Nuñez are “stepping up,” in those efforts.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: UNM’s offense, led by quarterback Tevaka Tuioti, produced several highlights.
Cedric Patterson III, UNM’s redshirt sophomore wide receiver, got behind the defense for a 39-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
The Lobos fell behind to SJSU, 21-7, but battled back to tie the score in the third quarter.
Late in the second quarter, Gonzales went for it on 4th-and-goal from 4 yards out. Tuioti showed his athleticism on the play, avoiding a sack and extending the play. He found redshirt freshman wide receiver Andrew Erickson for the touchdown.
Then, later in the third quarter, Tuioti directed an 8-play, 71-yard drive that ended with his 1-yard TD run and tied the Spartans at 21-21.
Erickson, a walk-on, was definitely a bright spot for the Lobos. The former Manzano High standout redshirted his freshman year in 2018. Last year, he suffered a season-ending knee injury during preseason camp. He gained a medical redshirt for last year.
He led the Lobos in receiving against the Spartans with 3 catches for 72 yards and the touchdown.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been out there,” Erickson said. “It took me a snap or two to get back into it, but once I did it was great.”
WHAT WENT WRONG: The Lobos’ defense struggled against the pass and allowed several big plays. The unit failed to get any pressure on SJSU quarterback Nick Stargel, who threw for 467 yards and a career-high five touchdowns.
The Lobos were without projected starting defensive backs Nico Bolden, Donte Martin and Michael LoVett.
Tavian Combs, a true freshman, started as UNM’s Lobo back in its 3-3-5 defense. He made good plays, but he also struggled with some mistakes, Gonzales said.
NOTABLE: Wyoming dominated visiting Hawaii, 31-7, on Friday night in Laramie, Wyoming.
The Rainbow Warriors (1-1), under the direction of first-year coach Todd Graham, couldn’t get anything going against the Cowboys.
Hawaii piled up more than 500 yards of offense in its season-opening 34-19 win at Fresno State, but then managed just 233 yards with its lowest passing total (110) in five years.
HE SAID IT: “It was just very rewarding after working so hard for so long to go out there and execute in front of all my brothers. To put it all together, it was a great feeling.”
— Andrew Erickson on scoring his first career TD.