RUIDOSO – Chase Clayton has come full circle as a football player, but it was his straight-ahead speed that bedeviled his University of New Mexico defensive teammates Saturday evening.
Clayton, a junior wide receiver, burned the Lobo secondary for touchdown passes of 46 and 55 yards as the offense dominated a 90-minute controlled scrimmage on an artificial-turf field at Ruidoso Middle School.
The offense scored seven touchdowns during the scrimmage, five through the air – a statistic that pleased coach Bob Davie.
No official statistics were kept. But according to statistics kept by the Journal, starting quarterback Cole Gautsche – who struggled in the passing game last season as a freshman – completed nine of 16 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Gautsche’s interception was an on-target throw that was knocked out of wide receiver Jeric Magnant’s hands by a big hit from true freshman cornerback Jadon Boatright. Sophomore cornerback Cranston Jones made a diving catch of the deflection.
“Number eight (Gautsche), anybody who was watching here (Saturday), you’d have to say that kid can throw the football,” Davie said. “It’s pretty impressive, what he did out here.”
One of Gautsche’s touchdown throws was a 46-yarder to tight end Reece White, a converted wide receiver. Gautsche also threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to sophomore slot receiver Carlos Wiggins.
Backup quarterback Clayton Mitchem was also effective. According to the Journal’s statistics, Mitchem was 6-of-12 for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Both his scoring passes went to Clayton.
At San Pedro (Calif.) High School, Clayton doubled as a defensive back and a wide receiver. But he came to UNM as a fullback, then was moved to defensive back, then to running back. In the meantime, he became one of the most prolific kickoff returners in the nation.
Now, he’s a wide receiver again.
“(Wide receiver) is my first love,” he said, “and I’m glad to be back here, trying to make plays and help the team out.”
It’s not as if the Lobos’ bread-and-butter running game wasn’t effective as well, even with star running back Kasey Carrier not carrying the ball a single time. Davie limited the participation of several key players on both sides of the ball, including Carrier, inside linebacker Dallas Bollema, outside linebacker Javarie Johnson, nose tackle Jacori Greer and offensive linemen Dillon Farrell and Darryl Johnson.
Junior running back Crusoe Gongbay broke a 49-yard run on the first play of the scrimmage and finished, unofficially, with 87 yards on 11 carries.
“He runs hard,” Davie said of Gongbay, who led the team in rushing as a freshman in 2011, left the program for eight months and returned a year ago. “The kid has come a long way.”
Davie also praised the elusiveness of true freshman running back Teriyon Gipson and the productivity of the receiving corps as a whole.
“I think the offense really stepped up and made plays,” Davie said. “They took what they’ve been doing on the practice field, brought it out here (Saturday) and actually stepped it up a notch, which was really encouraging to see.”
Davie was less encouraged by his defense.
“The defense came over here tonight and probably took a step back,” he said. “There were things that happened that made you say, ‘Did that really just happen?’ And it was surprising, because it was some older guys (who made defensive mistakes.)”
Still, the defense wasn’t without its moments.
In addition to Jones’ interception – he almost had another earlier in the scrimmage – Greer and defensive end Brett Bowers had sacks, though quarterbacks weren’t actually taken to the ground. Free safety David Guthrie lived up to his junior-college billing with some big hits.
Jones gave the offense, particularly the passing game, credit for keeping the defense off balance.
“We did make some mistakes today that were surprising,” he said. “… We’ll look at it on tape and we’re gonna correct it.
“I feel when the season starts, we’re gonna be where we need to be.”
Senior tight end Andrew Aho suffered a knee injury early in the scrimmage and did not return.
“The early prognosis is it’s not too bad,” Davie said.
The Lobos will take today off, then return to work in full pads Monday through Thursday. They’ll practice without pads Friday, then pack up and return to Albuquerque for the duration of fall camp.