Folks keep wondering when this University of New Mexico football team is going to turn the corner.
Truth be told, the Lobos turned the corner a bunch of times Saturday against UTEP.
Running backs Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson combined to rush for 155 yards on 22 carries against the Miners, almost all of that yardage coming on the perimeter – designed pitches or pitches on the triple option.
It was a 37-yard run by Pressley, on the first play from scrimmage of the second half, that ignited the UNM rally that erased a 24-7 halftime deficit. It was a 13-yard touchdown run by Gipson that completed that drive.
Meanwhile, before he left the game with a hamstring injury, Lobos quarterback Cole Gautsche rushed for 184 yards on 14 carries, including touchdown runs of 68 and 51 yards.
Virtually all of Gautsche’s yardage came on the perimeter as well, on option keepers or, in the case of the 68-yarder, a beautifully executed bootleg.
New Mexico lost, 31-24, but it’s hard to blame a running game that amassed 410 yards.
“It was pretty fun to watch,” coach Bob Davie said of his team’s offensive success against the Miners. “… We’ve got some team speed now. We’ve built up our explosiveness.”
Whether the Lobos can have the kind of success they enjoyed on the perimeter against UTEP against 17th-ranked Arizona State on Saturday, or anything close, is unknown.
It’s unknown, as well, whether – if the fast, athletic ASU defense stops UNM on the perimeter – the Lobos can get yards up the middle.
The past two seasons, Lobos running back Kasey Carrier rushed for a total of 2,591 yards and an average of 5.8 yards per carry. Though he played at around 180 pounds, Carrier gained most of those yards between the tackles – sometimes as the first read on the triple option, but often on called dive plays.
Carrier is gone. Though Pressley is listed at 200 pounds, speed, not power, is his calling card. Gipson weighs only 176.
The Lobos have two inside runners, senior Crusoe Gongbay and junior David Anaya, they can call upon. Against UTEP, Anaya and Gongbay saw limited action and had limited success: 33 yards on nine carries.
The outside-inside disparity in the UTEP game, Davie said on Tuesday at UNM’s weekly, was largely a function of how the Miners’ defense played the triple option.
Possibly because Carrier rushed for 291 yards against them last year in El Paso, most of those coming between the tackles, the Miners might have been up-the-middle conscious.
“We didn’t run many dives up in there against UTEP,” Davie said. “So much of it is how they play you, because we ran a lot of triple option where it was a true read, and there’s a reason we brought the ball out. Plus, we felt like we may have had a little speed advantage on their defense on the perimeter.
“I think Arizona State will play us a little bit differently, but so much of what we do on offense is dependent on what they do.”
Gautsche definitely won’t play against ASU because of the hamstring injury, Davie said, meaning it will be up to senior quarterback Clayton Mitchem to make those give, keep or pitch decisions. Redshirt freshman quarterback Lamar Jordan also is expected to play.
The inside running game – successful or not – could come into play, as well.
BEEN A LONG TIME: Saturday’s UNM-Arizona State game will the first football meeting between the two schools since 1977.
The Lobos and the Sun Devils twice were members of the same conference – the Border from 1931-51 and the Western Athletic from 1962-77. Arizona State and Arizona left for the Pac-10, now the Pac-12, in 1978.
Arizona State leads the series, 22-5, with one tie.
The Lobos haven’t beaten ASU since 1942, when UNM won 35-7 in Albuquerque.
Saturday’s game is the first of a two-game, home-and-home contract. New Mexico goes to Tempe, Ariz., next year on Sept. 19.
GRAHAM REVISITED: The last time Arizona State coach Todd Graham coached against New Mexico, in 2008, he was the head coach at Tulsa. His Golden Hurricane piled up 606 yards in routing the Lobos 56-14.
Tulsa passed for 469 yards, converted 14 of 15 third-down situations and never punted during the game.
Graham’s up-tempo offense, Davie said, is as explosive as ever – if not more so.
“They think it’s the best offense they’ve ever had, and that staff’s been together a long time,” Davie said. “So, we all know the challenge.”