When the offense is humming, the defense has more leaks than an old radiator.
Then, when defense rallies a bit, the offense sputters.
It’s a thread that connects years of New Mexico football.
The latest case in point: the Lobos’ 56-42 loss to the UNLV Rebels Saturday night at University Stadium.
The homecoming defeat drops UNM to 1-3 on the season and 0-1 in Mountain West Conference play.
The Rebels, 3-2 and 1-0, snapped a 23-game road losing streak. They hadn’t won away from home since 2009, when they won in Albuquerque.
Afterward, Lobos coach Bob Davie focused on a UNM defense that allowed 568 yards total offense — and in the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 42, gave up two touchdowns in a span of 1 minute, 43 seconds.
“At the end of the day,” Davie said, “you’ve got to be able to stop someone and you’ve got to be able to make some plays.”
Yet, the UNM defense, after giving up a go-ahead touchdown at the outset of the third quarter, stopped the Rebels on three consecutive series —a fumble recovery and two punts — thereafter.
The Lobos failed to take full advantage.
The UNM offense, spectacular in a first half that ended in a 35-35 tie, did cash in on SaQwan Edwards’ fumble recovery with a 43-yard Cole Gautsche-to-Carlos Wiggins touchdown pass that tied the game at 42. But UNM, despite runs of 30 yards by Kasey Carrier and 35 by Wiggins, did not score again.
Carrier, who rushed for 192 yards on the night, fumbled on the end of that 30-yarder.
Four plays after Wiggins’ 35-yard run, the Lobos were forced to punt.
Of UNM’s 581 yards total offense, only 140 came in the second half.
After Ben Skaer’s punt, the Rebels drove 80 yards on 15 plays, gobbling up almost 7 minutes of valuable clock time, before getting the eventual game-winning touchdown.
“Give (the Rebels) credit,” Davie said. “They made plays.”
Then, after a UNM three-and-out, UNLV running back Tim Cornett broke a 75-yard touchdown run on a counter toss play.
After a first half of historic proportions, the teams traded a mere couple of touchdowns in the third quarter.
The Gautsche-to-Wiggins touchdown pass equalized a 13-play, 75-yard UNLV touchdown drive with the second-half kickoff.
The first half, in contrast, defied description or belief: 400 yards rushing for the Lobos; five touchdowns requiring a total of just 8 minutes, 1 second for the Rebels; 749 yards total offense for the two teams combined.
The Rebels punted once in the first half; the Lobos had a turnover and a missed field goal. The remaining 10 offensive possessions resulted in touchdowns.
“I don’t know if I’ve been in a game like that (before),” Davie said. “That first half was just unbelievable.”
New Mexico jumped to a 14-0 lead, scoring on a 22-yard Carrier run, forcing a UNLV punt, then scoring again when Gautsche ran for 5 yards, then lateraled to Wiggins for 62 more and a touchdown.
But the Rebels responded with a 69-yard Marcus Sullivan run, then forced a Marquis Bundy fumble and tied the game on a three-play, 34-yard, 53-second drive.
From there, the teams see-sawed back and forth as hapless defenses gave up touchdown after touchdown.
The Lobos’ Justus Adams was well short on a 46-yard field goal as the first half ended.
Three Lobos — Carrier, Wiggins and Gautsche — rushed for more than 100 yards. New Mexico finished with 497 yards rushing and an 8.4-yard average per carry.
“There’s more to come,” said Wiggins, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound sophomore. “I always expect to do great things in a game. It’s just a matter of me getting the ball and trying to work had and get those extra yards when I can.”
But UNLV answered with offensive balance: 24-of-34 passing from Caleb Herring for 293 yards and four touchdowns, and 179 yards rushing with three touchdowns from Cornett.
“We had the right plays called,” said UNM defensive end Brett Bowers, who had six tackles, a quarterback sack and a forced fumble. “We just couldn’t execute to our full potential.
“In the end, they had too many big plays for touchdowns.”
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