University of New Mexico coach Danny Gonzales is known as a glass-half-full kind of guy, and he’ll need a positive outlook after his football team suffered its fourth straight loss to end the season on Saturday at University Stadium.
The Lobos struggled again on offense and took a step back on defense by giving up big plays that led to Utah State winning 35-10 and capturing the Mountain Division title to play in next week’s Mountain West Conference championship game against San Diego State.
Gonzales said he held out running back Aaron Dumas, who is the league’s top freshman rusher (658 yards), and wide receiver Luke Wysong, the league’s all-purpose yardage leader (717) among freshmen, to protect the future of the program “so that they don’t go out there, then we lose them and we can’t get better.”
“Even though I know it doesn’t look like it in the results that we are getting, we are making progress as a football team,” said Gonzales, whose team finished 3-9, 1-7 in the Mountain West. “The trajectory of our program is going in the right direction.”
Gonzales is 5-14 through two years as UNM’s head coach.
Hes pointed out offensive scheme and strength in the weight room as areas that will need vast improvement during the offseason, but there could also be changes after this loss. UNM started its fourth different quarterback of the season in Bryson Carroll and seventh in the 19 games under Gonzales.
Asked if there will be any changes to the coaching staff, Gonzales said, “It’s my job as the head football coach to evaluate every aspect of this program, from equipment training, strength, coaches, you name it, and that starts immediately. We’ll do what’s best for this football program.”
Though seemingly the UNM offense needs the most work — it is 130th and last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense — Gonzales said that the biggest challenge is growing the fan base.
The crowd on Saturday was generously announced at 11,046.
Those who were there at least were paying attention. They seemingly were at their loudest during the first half when the referee erroneously announced that “New Mexico State” had called a timeout and the fans responded with loud boos. The referee quickly apologized.
“I thought coming down here was going to be really a challenge because the environment was going to be super quiet, and it was,” Blake Anderson, the Aggies’ first-year coach and former (1999-2001) UNM assistant, said during a virtual postgame press conference. “You could hear a pin drop out there. I knew what they do defensively could be a huge challenge for us to control and protect. But we were able to hit the big play early.”
Gonzales said the Lobos played man in coverage with the thought that they could stop every other part of Utah State’s offense, but the problem was coverage kept getting beat deep. USU’s Logan Bonner threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns, four in the first half, on 16-of-23 passing. His five TD passes were a career-high and tied the school record for most in a game. His 32 touchdown passes tie the single-season school record set by Jordan Love in 2018.
Carroll, who began the season as a graduate manager, threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Kyle Jarvis in the fourth quarter. They were among 20 seniors honored before the game. Senior Joey Noble had two sacks to finish the season with 6½ sacks and 18½ tackles for loss.
Also, during the fourth quarter, UNM center Radson Jang suffered a severe left leg injury. His ankle bent outward awkwardly before he was carted off.
“Prayers to Radson Jang,” said Gonzales, who became emotional. “I want to thank coach Anderson. The young man was laying there with his ankle 180 degrees the other way, and coach Anderson knelt down and prayed over Radson. That’s what kind of man Blake Anderson is.”
Gonzales became friends with Anderson when Gonzales began as a graduate assistant at UNM in 1999 under then-head coach Rocky Long, who is now the Lobos’ defensive coordinator.