The past three seasons, as the New Mexico Lobos struggled to find a passing game to complement their high-powered ground attack, third-and-5 was generally a running down.
As often as not, third-and-7 was, as well.
In 2015, maybe not.
As promised, in front of a crowd of 1,000 or so, the Lobos concentrated on the passing game for most of their spring practice finale Friday night at University Stadium.
Coach Bob Davie saw Friday’s workout as little different from the 14 that preceded it. The Lobos scrimmaged – tackled to the ground – for only 10 plays at the end of the evening.
But Davie said he continued to see a passing attack that, when combined with the Lobos’ bread-and-butter option-based ground game, has the potential to keep opposing defenses on their heels.
“I’ve said since I started coaching,” Davie said, “(that) the combination of triple-option football and the ability to throw the football is the deadliest combination there is.
“I’m not getting ahead of myself. I realize when those bullets start flying for real (this fall), we’ll probably truly find out if we can combine both things efficiently. But I’m pretty pleased with it, honestly.”
The Lobos began the evening with third-and-5 and third-and-7 situations. The offense went 6-of-14, four of the first downs coming via the pass.
During the main portion of the workout – first-and-10s, starting at the offense’s 35-yard line – the offense completed 11-of-18 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers are unofficial, based on statistics kept by the Journal.
Sophomore quarterback Lamar Jordan was 3-of-5 passing for 72 yards and a touchdown, the TD coming on a 62-yarder to redshirt freshman wide receiver Matt Quarrells.
From his own 38, Jordan rifled a pass to Quarrells, who caught the ball at the defense’s 40 and took it in from there.
“We have some weapons out there (in the passing game), so I can’t wait to showcase those weapons this year,” Jordan said. “… Everyone knows we’re a triple (option) team, and tonight we only ran triple about two times. We were zone read, slinging it.”
Austin Apodaca, a junior transfer quarterback from Washington State via Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, was 5-of-10 for 81 yards with an interception.
Redshirt freshman QB JaJuan Lawson was 2-of-2, including a 30-yard touchdown throw to Quarrells.
Just for fun, offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse tossed in a flea-flicker. Running back David Anaya found wide receiver Carlos Wiggins behind the secondary and hit him for a 50-yard TD.
The Lobos didn’t completely abandon their signature running game.
Redshirt freshman running back Tyrone Owens popped a 55-yard touchdown run up the middle; he finished with 78 yards on seven carries.
Junior Teriyon Gipson rushed five times for 35 yards, redshirt freshman Diquon Woodhouse four for 23.
There were a few defensive highlights, too.
Senior cornerback Donnie Duncan thwarted a touchdown drive by picking off an Apodaca pass in the end zone. Duncan also had a quarterback sack. Defensive end Garrett Hughes batted down a Jordan pass.
“We’ve actually got a lot more depth, and people are playing more physical,” said sophomore safety Markel Byrd. “A lot more guys are knowing what to do and when to do it.”
The defense has been at a disadvantage most of the spring, since tackling to the ground has been limited. Davie said the plan was to get everyone healthy for fall camp, when improving the defense’s tackling skills becomes job one.
Last season, the Lobos ranked 124th among 125 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense.
“Our No. 1 priority as a football program will be tackling, starting August 1st,” Davie said. “… We have to be a better tackling football team. That’s No. 1 on the list for me. By far.”