The final score — UNM 27, UTEP 10 — appeared rather surprising, considering the Miners entered as 2½-point favorites Saturday night at University Stadium.
But there was a different number — 7 — that stuck out and showed just how dominant the Lobos’ defense was against the Miners.
UNM intercepted four UTEP passes and caused three more turnovers with fumbles. It was difficult to gauge which play was the biggest, yet senior linebacker Reco Hannah’s pick-six certainly gave the Lobos (2-1) momentum early on, and a 10-0 lead.
Hannah, playing on his super senior year (an extra season for anyone who played through the pandemic), intercepted Gavin Hardison’s pass and ran it in from 22 yards out. It was Hardison’s first interception in 122 pass attempts. It was Hannah’s first career interception and first career touchdown.
“We do some turnovers stuff during fall camp but that’s not where you get turnovers,” UNM coach Danny Gonzales said. “Turnovers you get from effort and being really physical. The (turnovers) you cause from the way we play and what we preach on defense is all 11 to the ball in bad humor and when you get there you try to cause something,”
UNM safety A.J. Haulcy, who is from Fort Bend Marshall High in Missouri City, Texas, made a couple huge plays for a true freshman. He recorded an interception and displayed athleticism by keeping his feet inbounds while catching the ball.
Haulcy also ran down UTEP wide receiver Tyrin Smith on a 76-yard pass play and punched the ball out for a forced fumble that hit the pylon for a touchback and change of possession.
“I don’t think there is a special magical formula (for causing turnovers),” Gonzales said. “It comes from effort. It comes from attitude. Now it’s the expectation (to cause turnovers). It ain’t the expectation to get seven (turnovers). That’s unbelievable. Give them credit.”
The last time UNM caused seven turnovers was Nov. 22, 1986.
Haulcy, who finished with two tackles, might be needed for more big plays as the “Lobo” safety in UNM’s 3-3-5 defense. Junior Tavian Combs, who starts as the Lobo safety, sustained a leg injury and could miss some time, Gonzales said.
The Lobos will play at LSU next week.
UNM sophomore linebacker Cody Moon, a former walk-on from Volcano Vista, turned in a career-best game in his first start. He led the Lobos with a career-high 11 tackles. He also recorded two sacks and two tackles for loss.
He started in place of Syaire Riley, who was out due to illness, said Gonzales. UNM’s third-year coach expects Riley to return on Sunday.
The Lobos appeared to gather momentum and intensity when players from past teams were heavily involved during pre-game. It seemed to help UNM build a 20-3 halftime lead.
The Lobos honored the 1962, ’82 and ’97 teams on Saturday.
UNM got its run game on track. The Lobos compiled 188 rushing yards, 123 in the first half. They used mostly Nate Jones (83 yards, 1 TD on eight carries), Sherod White (21 yards and 1 TD on eight carries), Christian Washington (6 carries for 57 yards) and Miles Kendrick (8 carries for 26 yards). Their efforts helped UNM gain the needed breather on defense.
The Lobos’ senior kicker George Steinkamp, from Los Lunas, typified UNM’s effort after a 31-14 loss to Boise State last week. Gonzales switched to a different kicker, Luke Drzewiecki, and demoted Steinkamp after he missed a field-goal attempt against Boise State and a missed PAT-attempt against FCS Maine in the season opener.
Steinkamp responded with a career-long 51-yard field goal against the Miners that gave the Lobos a 20-3 lead before halftime.