This is late November, and injuries are expected. But Lobos coach Bob Davie said after Monday’s practice that UNM’s current situation is unusual even so.
“It’s about as thin as I’ve ever seen, honestly,” Davie said.
The problems are especially acute at linebacker.
Last week in a 69-28 loss at Fresno State, the Lobos (3-8 overall, 1-6 in Mountain West Conference play) were forced to play their nickel package – three linebackers and five defensive backs, as opposed to their base alignment of four and four – because they didn’t have four healthy linebackers.
They’ll improvise for Saturday’s season finale at Boise State (7-4, 5-2).
Davie said UNM would have played mostly nickel coverage against Fresno State, regardless of health issues, because the Bulldogs pass the ball so often. Because Boise State has a more concerted ground game, he said, “We’ve got to play some (base defense).”
Outside rush linebacker Javarie Johnson and inside “mike” linebacker Dakota Cox are healthy. Inside “will” linebacker Dallas Bollema (bad back) and outside “sam” linebacker Rashad Rainey (torn labrum) are expected to play.
Saturday’s game will be the last of Bollema’s and Rainey’s college careers.
“(Rainey) actually played last year with the other labrum torn, so he’s used to it,” Davie said. “He wants to play, so we’re gonna harness him up. How long he can play, I don’t know.
“Through all this, that’s the impressive thing. There are so many guys playing that very easily could be over on that sidelines, probably should be in some cases. I appreciate that very much.”
Davie is hoping sophomore Richard Winston, Rainey’s principal backup, can return after injuring a hamstring at Fresno State. If not, Johnson is preparing to play either outside spot. True freshman Donnie White is Johnson’s backup at rush linebacker.
On the inside, junior Toby Ball is battling injuries to both elbows. Sophomore Mike Arredondo has returned from an injury that sidelined him at Fresno State, and walk-on Malcolm Proctor is available.
The situation is almost as dire on the offensive line, where starting right guard Jamal Price has a shoulder injury and backup Calvin McDowney has a sprained ankle.
If neither can go, redshirt sophomore Dillon Romine and walk-on Jack Lamm are next up.
On the defensive line, season-long starter Brett Bowers suffered a season-ending knee injury at Fresno State. Davie said senior Jacori Greer will move to Bowers’ defensive end spot, with true freshman Nik D’Avanzo starting in Greer’s place at nose guard.
At running back, junior Crusoe Gongbay, who started in place of injured senior Kasey Carrier at Fresno State, suffered hip and knee injuries. Sophomore Jhurell Pressley likely will start at Boise State, Davie said.
“We’ve just got to get through this, get through this storm,” he said.
BOISE GOODBYE: Just as the Lobos’ game last week at Fresno State was the final regular-season home game for the Bulldogs’ seniors, Saturday will be Senior Night at Boise State.
It’s that much less likely, then, that the Broncos will experience a letdown against the Lobos.
“It’s starting to hit those guys,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said Monday at his weekly news conference. ” … Talk to the seniors, they get it. It’s an important game for us all, to go out there and play well the last game here on the blue field.”
Last year in Albuquerque, the Lobos – trailing 29-0 at halftime – dominated the second half on the ground before losing to the Broncos 32-29.
Knowing that UNM will be without Carrier and starting quarterback Cole Gautsche, Petersen said he still expected his defense to “have their hands full” on Saturday.
“They’ve played (their backups) throughout the year,” Petersen said.
“… They score points against everybody.”
Boise State still has a remote chance of making the first-ever Mountain West title game. It would need Wyoming to upset Utah State on Saturday, then would need to beat the Lobos that night.
The Broncos beat Utah State and have not lost to a Mountain Division team. But they lost to West Division foes Fresno State and San Diego State.