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Lobo football: UNM has reached crucial juncture

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – For Bob Davie, there’s the there and then, and there’s the here and now.

In the there and then, today’s game at UNLV will not make or break his University of New Mexico football program.

In the here and now, wow. This UNM team sorely needs a victory.

Davie, the third-year Lobos coach, remains confident in the belief that he and his staff have this traditionally dismal program headed in the right direction.

Be patient, his consistent message to Lobo fans has been. We’ll eventually get there, where you want us to go, win or lose on any given Saturday.

Yet, Davie doesn’t hesitate to say today’s game against the Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium is a crucial one.

“On a lot of levels,” he said, “we all know this is a big game.”

This year’s Lobos are 2-5 overall, 0-3 in Mountain West Conference play. During Davie’s tenure, UNM is 9-23 overall, and 2-17 against league opponents.

Davie makes a point of avoiding outside noise – newspapers, TV, the talk shows, the online message boards – that might distract him from the job at hand.

Yet, after five turbulent years as the head coach at Notre Dame and a decade as a TV football analyst, he doesn’t have to hear or see the criticism of his team, his program and himself to know it’s there.

No one has to tell him, either, that after UNLV (2-6, 1-3), the Lobos must face, in order, Boise State (6-2, 3-1), Utah State (5-3, 2-1) and Colorado State (7-1, 3-1). After those three, how much might the Lobos have left when they face Wyoming (3-5, 1-3) in the season finale?

Nor is the urgency surrounding today’s game lost on the UNM players.

“We all know the season’s winding down,” sophomore linebacker Dakota Cox said, “and we’re all dying for another win and a lot more wins.”

Nevertheless, Davie said, one of his favorite slogans – “narrow the focus” – still applies, perhaps more so than ever.

“You try not to spend too much time thinking about (the big-game factor) or talking about that,” he said, “because no matter what the scenario is … at the end of the day, it comes down to executing.

“That’s the biggest point we’ve tried to make. Can we go up there (to Las Vegas) and execute for 60 minutes?”

Cox believes the answer is yes.

“We’ve been practicing like we want it,” he said. “I can see it in these guys’ eyes.

“That’s the biggest thing. If we practice great, it’s gonna transfer onto the field on game day.”

The Lobos didn’t have a game last week and are reasonably healthy for today. At least as important, Cox said, was the opportunity to gain some distance from a bitterly disappointing loss the previous Saturday at Air Force.

“We took our bye week to get our minds right and basically go into this last half of the season,” he said. “It goes by so fast, and guys realize that. Especially our seniors.”

The Lobos on Friday were listed as a one-point underdog for today’s game. But, whether as three-point underdogs in Las Vegas two years ago or two-point favorites in Albuquerque last year, UNM simply hasn’t held up its end. The Rebels throttled the Lobos 35-7 at Sam Boyd Stadium in 2012, then outscored them 56-42 at University Stadium last fall.

That, Davie said, is another big-game factor. As the Mountain West schedule rotates, the Lobos aren’t due to play UNLV after today until 2017.

He would love to give the Rebels a loss as a going-away present.

“You look at what they’ve done to us the last two years,” he said.

By the time the Lobos and the Rebels meet again, Davie expects to have his program and his team on far more solid footing than it is today.

A victory this afternoon, perhaps, could help kick-start the process.