Could it be time for the University of New Mexico to turn to the player who began last year as the No. 5 QB and ended up leading the Lobos to two wins, while celebrating touchdowns with finger guns and pumping life into a losing program along the way?
That quarterback would be Isaiah Chavez. He’s in the conversation as an option for the Lobos (2-4, 0-2 Mountain West), who are on a four-game losing streak and might have starter Terry Wilson out with an elbow injury.
Wilson, a Kentucky transfer, went out of Saturday night’s 31-7 loss to then-No. 25-ranked San Diego State (5-0, 1-0) during the fourth quarter. He came off the field with his non-throwing elbow dislocated and it took three trainers to pop it back into place, UNM coach Danny Gonzales said.
Gonzales is hopeful Wilson will be healthy enough to play against Colorado State on Saturday, but if Wilson’s elbow swells or if it becomes severe, Gonzales will most likely determine the starter between Chavez, freshman CJ Montes and redshirt junior Trae Hall, who was recently converted to wide receiver and started in the slot in place of Mannie Logan-Greene (chest).
Logan-Greene still may not be ready and freshman wide receiver Keyonta Lanier sustained a shoulder injury against the Aztecs that could be yet another hit to the receiver group.
Montes, out of Paraclete High in Lancaster, Calif., made his debut in relief against SDSU after Wilson’s injury.
Chavez was out the first four games of the season with a concussion. He returned against Air Force and said it felt good just to be suited up and back with his teammates.
“We all believe in 2 (Wilson); we believe in whoever is back there,” Chavez told the Journal after Tuesday’s practice. “Of course I want to be out there with the guys. My turn has come once and if I have to wait again, that’s OK with me. Terry is helping me a lot. There are now a lot more things that I have in my tool box. … He’s helped a lot, for me growing as a quarterback. I just have to wait.”
UNM’s offense has struggled during the Lobos’ four-game losing streak, stemming from problems, including an underachieving offensive line, momentum-killing penalties and costly turnovers.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: UNM’s defense played at a high level after it appeared the unit would be dominated because the Aztecs ran the ball at will on their first drive.
Lobo sophomore middle linebacker Ray Leutele provided a big highlight and UNM’s only points of the night when he stripped running back Greg Bell of the ball, scooped up the fumble and ran it back for a 15-yard touchdown.
Leutele, who played at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., finished with five tackles, including one tackle for a loss. Sophomore safety Tavian Combs led the Lobos with 11 tackles.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The UNM offense struggled for the fourth straight game, this time with six three-and-outs and two turnovers. The Lobos were shut out on offense for the second time this season.
Wilson threw for 127 yards on 13-of-25 passing and one interception that came late in the first half.
“I thought it really crushed a lot of momentum,” Gonzales said of the interception that came on third down from SDSU’s 9-yard line. “We put that one in, it’s a completely different football game. We have to give ourselves a chance on those by executing.”
NOTABLE: Leutele’s 15-yard touchdown on a fumble return was UNM’s first fumble return for a touchdown since Nov. 10, 2018 when Jalin Burrell picked up a loose football in the end zone against Air Force. Leutele’s touchdown gave UNM 10 touchdowns this season, and they have been scored by 10 different players.
HE SAID IT: “We’re afraid to make plays. I think we’re afraid of the spotlight. We’re afraid of shining. That’s something that our offense just needs because once they get that feeling of shining and winning it’s something that you want to do consistently.
“I don’t think that’s been around here. I don’t think that’s been the culture of winning around here. I think people are just OK with losing because that’s how it’s been the past couple of years. But once you get that feeling of winning a big game against a big opponent you want that feeling to stay there so you’ll do anything to keep it there.”
— Quarterback Isaiah Chavez said of the offense after Tuesday’s practice