Against Boise State last week, UNM senior quarterback Miles Kendrick was sacked six times and struggled while under pressure for most of the game.
The Lobos gained just 48 yards on offense through three scoreless quarters.
New Mexico (1-1) spent this past week figuring out ways to attack UTEP (1-2) on Saturday at University Stadium in the Lobos’ third consecutive home game to begin the 2022 season.
UTEP is coming off its first win, a 20-13 victory over New Mexico State at the Sun Bowl.
“There was a little bit of frustration,” Kendrick said about the struggles in the 31-14 loss to Boise State last week. “But the thing we gotta understand (is) when you play good football teams sometimes it takes awhile to get going. They came out fast defensively. They came out aggressive, and I think we just had to settle down and find our groove and find our focus and kind of just settle in a little bit, figure out ways to attack them.”
Kendrick believes the Lobos are close to gaining success on the ground and through the air.
“In those moments (of frustration), the big difference is whether or not you panic or stay composed,” Kendrick said. “You panic, you’re going to go three-and-out and have drives stall. If you stay composed and you try to resolve the issues at hand, I think you start to find solutions and you start to find you’re able to move the ball down the field.”
The Lobos weren’t shy about attacking the Broncos deep and will most likely test UTEP’s secondary as well.
Kendrick had 17 deep-ball pass attempts, UNM coach Danny Gonzales said, but didn’t connect on any. He didn’t consider Kendrick’s fourth-quarter 69-yard TD pass to senior wide receiver Geordon Porter a deep-shot attempt.
Kendrick showed a strong rapport on a play designed for a hitch route. The two transfers, Kendrick from Kansas and Porter from Arizona State, saw the Boise State defender play up tight and the quarterback called for a fade.
Gonzales is hopeful New Mexico can get its running game going. He said redshirt sophomore Nate Jones was trying too hard to take each carry for a touchdown in his 2022 debut. Both junior transfer Sherod White and freshman Christian White showed explosiveness, the latter on a 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. White was named Mountain West Conference freshman of the week.
The Lobos’ strength, of course, is their defense, and they believe the unit will help keep UNM in the game through four quarters.
New Mexico, a 2½-point underdog Saturday, is expecting a much different game vs. UTEP than last year’s, when the Miners rallied for a 20-13 win. The Lobos were without six of their top eight pass catchers due to COVID-19 and contact-tracing protocol.
“We move into a big challenge this week against a team that is improving,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said.
“They’re improving as they continue to go through the maturation of their program. They, defensively, they give you a variety of looks. It’s well known that (defensive coordinator) Rocky (Long) does a great job with that. That’ll be a test for every team that plays them. That’s a test, right? You got to have a good game plan.”
SURGERY: Junior offensive lineman DJ Wingfield, who sustained a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee in the season opener, is expected to have surgery near the end of the month, Gonzales said, as they are waiting for swelling to subside.
“He’ll be out till about June before he’s full go,” Gonzales said.
Tavien Ford, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound sophomore transfer from Georgia Military College, is slated to start at right tackle in place of Wingfield.
BIG GAME MOON: Cody Moon, a former walk-on from Volcano Vista, turned in a big game against Boise State with seven tackles, two tackles for loss and 1½ sacks. But the sophomore outside linebacker refused to call it a breakout game.
“I don’t think I’ve had a breakout game until I’ve had double-digit tackles in a game,” Moon said. “I did have pretty decent stats but I don’t consider it a breakout game. I still have a long way to go to have some great stats to make an impact in conference. I think I’ve excelled a lot as a player since last year. This might be my best game yet, but it’s not my best game by far for what’s to come.”
HAPPY TO BE A LOBO: UNM freshman defensive lineman Tyler Kiehne, a former Los Lunas standout and a transfer from UCLA, made his 2022 debut against Boise State.
Gonzales said he played fine, but was a bit rusty after dealing with ankle and knee injuries through August that caused him to miss the season opener on Sept. 3.
Kiehne got a few plays in but did not record a tackle.
“To be able to get reps in the game it was just a dream come true and nothing short of amazing,” he said. “It was very frustrating for me because I had been looking forward to the season so much. Having to sit out and not being able to practice as hard as I want to and do all the things that I want to, it was very hard for me mentally. Physically I was in a lot of pain. Mentally it was a darker place to be and it just very frustrating just because I wanted to be out there and I wanted to prove myself and prove myself to my teammates and my coaches. It was very hard.”