Several times in August, both in Albuquerque and Ruidoso, UNM football coach Bob Davie moved his team’s practices to a synthetic-surface field because heavy rains had softened the natural turf on which the Lobos normally practiced.
On one such occasion, Davie jokingly announced that the state’s drought was over.
Another drought, however, continues. Davie’s UNM defense has not created a turnover since Oct. 5, 2013 – eight games ago.
“It’s amazing,” Davie said during Thursday’s practice. “… We’ve just hit a drought, we really have.
“I’m surprised people haven’t talked about it more. We’re probably on a course right there for an NCAA record.”
Time and again, statistical analyses have shown that turnover margin is the most decisive factor in football.
No one has to convince Davie.
“I’m very aware of that statistic, and within that statistic is, really, the reason we haven’t been able to win more games,” he said.
When special teams are added to the equation, the Lobos’ turnover-less streak shrinks to seven games. Against Wyoming on Oct. 12, UNM’s Cranston Jones recovered a fumble by Cowboys punt returner Blair Burns, forced by the Lobos’ Crusoe Gongbay.
But the defense hasn’t secured a turnover since the previous game. Linebacker Tevin Newman and cornerback SaQwan Edwards each intercepted a pass during the Lobos’ 66-17 rout of New Mexico State.
Since then, it has rained in the Mojave Desert and snowed in Cairo. The Lobos’ dry spell continues.
The source, Davie said, is threefold.
First, there’s plain bad luck. Eight times during the no-turnovers streak, opposing teams fumbled. The Lobos recovered nary a one.
“Eventually, 50 percent of them are gonna come your way and 50 percent are gonna go away from you,” Davie said.
The Lobos are still waiting for their 50 percent.
Secondly, UNM’s predominantly young defenders haven’t consistently been in position to jar the ball loose from an opposing ball carrier.
“It’s just not being explosive enough to make things happen,” Davie said.
Third, regarding interceptions, UNM defenders often haven’t been close enough to opposing receivers to get their hands on the ball – sometimes, barely in the same ZIP code.
“We’ve been back on our heels, we really have,” Davie said. “Let’s be honest. I could tell you right now the games that we’ve played here on defense that we’ve been the aggressor, and there haven’t been very many of them.
“Until we build a consistent defense that can execute with some really good players, there’s no quick fix to that. It’s what it is, right there.”
The damage could have been far worse last season, had the UNM offense not done a decent job of holding on to the ball. The Lobos were a mere minus-4 in turnover margin in 2013.
And, as crucial as turnover margin is, it’s not everything. New Mexico was plus-3 early last season in a game at Pittsburgh, but gave up 527 yards in total offense and lost 49-27.
In last Saturday’s 2014 opener against UTEP, though, turnovers were crucial. Three Lobo gaffes in the final 5 minutes – two fumbles, one interception – short-circuited a second half comeback and led to a 31-24 defeat. The Miners, of course, committed no turnovers.
Meanwhile, from the Irony Department, there’s this. Arizona State, the Lobos’ opponent this Saturday at University Stadium, entered its game last week against Weber State with a streak of 29 games in which the Sun Devils had gotten at least one turnover.
The streak ended against the Wildcats.
No matter; the 17th-ranked Sun Devils won in a walk, 45-14.
DEFINITELY, MAYBE: Davie said he and offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse definitely intend to have redshirt freshman quarterback Lamar Jordan play at some point against ASU.
Senior Clayton Mitchem will start at quarterback in place of junior Cole Gautsche, who suffered a hamstring injury in the UTEP game.
“They’re both going to play,” Davie said of Mitchem and Jordan.
But, he added, even the most definite of plans can change.
“It always depends on what happens in a game,” Davie said. “I hope … they both stay healthy and we have that option.”
Just in case, true freshman quarterback JaJuan Lawson was pulled from scout-team duty and will be the No. 3 quarterback Saturday.