ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Judging from the post-game jubilation, one might have thought the New Mexico Lobos had just won a conference championship.
All they’d really done Saturday is beat a Wyoming team that is now 0-4.
But, hey, New Mexico is now 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference – undefeated in league play after a win for the first time since 2005. From 2006 through 2014, the Lobos lost their MWC opener.
One could hardly blame the Lobos (2-2 overall, a far better thing than 1-3) for savoring the moment after their well-earned, 38-28 victory over the Cowboys.
“This is awesome,” said junior linebacker Dakota Cox, who contributed eight tackles, 1½ sacks, 3½ tackles for loss and a fourth-quarter interception. “It builds the confidence of the defense and the offense and the whole team in general.”
That confidence likely will be needed, and tested, Saturday when the New Mexico State Aggies come to University Stadium.
The Aggies, like Wyoming, are winless and considered weak. But in the styles-make-fights world of college football, NMSU probably presents the Lobos with more problems than Wyoming did.
To date, UNM has shown little ability to cope with today’s up-tempo offenses. It’s worth noting that Wyoming, a traditional huddle-up team, scored two of its four touchdowns when it went to hurry-up mode at the end of each half.
New Mexico State runs as frenetic an up-tempo offense as the Lobos have seen, and UNM barely escaped with a 38-35 victory last year in Las Cruces. “Embarrassing,” was Lobos coach Bob Davie’s description of his defense’s struggles in that game.
Fear not, Cox said.
“We’ve been practicing against up-tempo for a long time, we’ve been doing drills for it, and it’s going to be nothing different going into practice this week.
” I think we’re ready for it. We were ready for a slow offense, and we’re ready for a fast offense.”
MORE TEMPO: Last year, in UNM’s eventual 31-28 victory at UNLV, the Lobos jumped out to a 17-0 lead. The Rebels, having huddled on offense to that point, went to their hurry-up at the end of the first half and put a touchdown on the board.
Taking that cue, UNLV stayed in up-tempo no-huddle and put up 21 points in the second half. The Lobos needed a late touchdown drive to salvage the victory.
One might have expected Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, under similar circumstances, to go no-huddle in the second half. He did not, until it was too late.
MORE HUDDLE: The Lobos, a no-huddle team in their first three games, went to the huddle against Wyoming – part of a successful attempt to get back to who they’ve been on offense the past three years: huddle up, run the triple option.
One reason UNM had gone to the no-huddle, Davie has said, was because up-tempo teams were running so many more plays than the Lobos were. That wasn’t a major concern against Wyoming, a huddle-up team.
Wyoming did run considerably more plays than UNM (72-55) in Laramie, but total offense was virtually even (409 for UNM, 408 for Wyoming). And the Lobos’ quality trumped the Cowboys’ quantity; New Mexico averaged 7.4 yards per play, Wyoming 5.7.
GOING FOR TWO: If the Lobos beat New Mexico State, they will have won two games in a row for the first time since beating Texas State and Hawaii in 2012.
Before that, one must go back to 2008 for consecutive victories – those also happened to come over New Mexico State and Wyoming.
Based on that history, back-to-back victories are hardly a guarantee of further success. The 2012 Lobos lost their last six games after the Hawaii win; the 2008 team finished 4-8.
KEY PLAY: Was it quarterback Lamar Jordan’s 56-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game? Was it Richard McQuarley’s 43-yard scoring run up the middle that put the Lobos up 35-14 in the third quarter?
The vote here goes to safety Markel Byrd’s leaping interception of a Cameron Coffman pass on the third play of the fourth quarter.
Wyoming, trailing 35-21, had just forced a UNM three-and-out. A Cowboys touchdown would have cut the Lobos’ lead to seven points with most of a quarter left to play.
But Byrd went up in traffic and brought down the ball at the New Mexico 21-yard line.
The Lobos didn’t score on the ensuing possession, but they took 6 minutes, 9 seconds off the clock with a 10-play drive. After Zack Rogers’ punt, Cox essentially sealed it with his good-reflexes, good-hands interception at the Wyoming 11-yard line.