No quarterback operates in a vacuum, OK?
There are four other position groups – offensive line, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends – on offense. Defense and special teams figure in the equation as well.
Still, regarding the 2022 New Mexico Lobos, the numbers are real and inescapable. Game after game, the Lobos lost at quarterback.
That, to a great extent, is why they finished 2-10 after a 17-0 loss at Colorado State on Friday. That’s why, as of Saturday morning, they ranked dead last among the NCAA Football Subdivision’s 131 teams in total offense. That’s why, in going 0-8 in Mountain West Conference play, they averaged 8.5 points per game.
It’s fair to point out that UNM’s ground game wasn’t exactly electric, either. The Lobos averaged just 3.4 yards per carry (an average brought down by 43 quarterback sacks). Still, it’s the quarterback who handles every snap.
It’s something of a mystery why New Mexico has been unable to find a truly effective run-pass quarterback since Graham Leigh (1997-98) – though UNM coach Danny Gonzales, who was on staff at the time, is partial to Donovan Porterie (2006-09).
Austin Apodaca (2015-16) might have been that guy had he not played in a triple-option offense. Cole Gautsche and Lamar Jordan II were classic triple-option quarterbacks.
Kentucky transfer Terry Wilson looked like he might be the answer last season until a dislocated elbow ended his UNM career halfway through the schedule.
And in 2022?
Season statistics suggest that Kansas transfer Miles Kendrick was UNM’s best quarterback and that Gonzales should not have benched him after the Oct. 15 loss at New Mexico State. But, partly because Kendrick lacked ability to escape, and partly because he had no eligibility beyond this season, UNM went to sophomore junior-college transfer Justin Holaday.
After Holaday suffered a knee injury in practice, redshirt freshman CJ Montes started the Lobos’ final two games. Between them, Holaday and Montes were 53-of-110 passing for 396 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns.
On the season, UNM’s passing efficiency rate of 92.02 ranks 130th in the FBS. Meanwhile, despite the struggles opposing quarterbacks faced against UNM’s blitzing 3-3-5 defense, UNM’s 12 opponents managed an efficiency rate of 134.67. That would have ranked them 67th – not great, but a far sight better than 130th.
So, what’s the answer?
It starts with a new offensive coordinator.
In January 2020, Gonzales hired Derek Warehime – a former UNM assistant with no prior experience as a coordinator – for the position. He fired Warehime midway through the 2022 season and appointed quarterbacks coach Heath Ridenour as O-coordinator on an interim basis.
After Friday’s game, Gonzales said he plans to hire “a guy that has a system and has called plays before and can adapt (his system) to what our kids (can do).”
As for the possibilities at quarterback, Holaday and Montes should by no means be ruled out. Holaday didn’t arrive on campus until July, without benefit of a spring practice in Warehime’s system. Montes was making his third career start at CSU. Both appear to have the necessary physical talent.
Is there help on the way? Two high school quarterbacks with impressive statistics have committed to UNM: La Cueva’s Aidan Armenta and Devon Dampier of Saguaro High School in Phoenix.
Dampier is a classic dual-threat QB, Armenta more a pure passer.
To expect a true freshman to step in as a starter, particularly in a new system, might be too much to expect. The junior-college ranks or the transfer portal might supply a newcomer with college game experience.
After Friday’s game, Gonzales was adamant that his program as a whole does not need a reset and that real progress is being made despite UNM’s 7-24 record during his three-year tenure.
Ultimately, though, progress is measured by one thing: wins and losses.
That means vast improvement must be made on offense.
In the meeting rooms, that starts with the offensive coordinator.
On the field, it starts with the quarterback.