It’s so cliché, right? Team struggles, captains call players-only meeting, team goes on a win streak.
But then, clichés become clichés because they keep happening.
This one happened to the New Mexico Lobos the week of Oct. 11, after a sobering, 49-21 loss to Boise State dropped UNM to 2-3 on the season.
“We had a players only meeting,” UNM senior running back Teriyon Gipson said this week after a practice in preparation for tonight’s Mountain West Conference game at Utah State. “We had to take a reality check and look at ourselves in the mirror. It was like, ‘We know we’re better than this.’
“The captains (Austin Apodaca, Dakota Cox, Daniel Henry, Lamar Jordan) kind of ran it. We just had a talk with ourselves, asked what do we want to do, where’s this season gonna go.”
The Lobos (6-3 overall, 4-1 in Mountain West play) have not lost since. Having secured bowl eligibility, they have at least a shot at a MWC Mountain Division title and a showdown with runaway West Division champion San Diego State on Dec. 3.
But (cliché alert) first things first. Despite its 3-6 season record (1-5 in the MWC), Utah State is a 1½-point favorite at home in Logan, Utah. That, perhaps, is a tribute to a Utah State program that won 43 games the past five seasons and went to a bowl game each of those years.
The odds, though, may also reflect lingering skepticism regarding a UNM program that won just 19 games during that same five-year span — and a 2016 team that, four-game win streak or no four-game win streak, lost to New Mexico State and got blown out by Boise State.
There’s no doubt in Lobos coach Bob Davie’s mind, though, that his team’s progress is real.
“We’re locked in pretty good right now,” he said. “We’re focused as a team. We’ve got a pretty good little football program going on.”
Junior cornerback Jadon Boatright has a unique perspective on what the program was, is, and perhaps will be. After playing in 2013-14, he left UNM and wasn’t part of last year’s team that went 7-6 and lost to Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl.
“I came back in May,” Boatright said. “I definitely could see the progress, especially in our weight room. … Over the summer we all just got better, we all got stronger, the camaraderie was better.”
Yet, five games into the season, there the Lobos were: a 2-3 record, on the precipice, it seemed, of failing to build on the 2015 season.
Hence, the meeting. No coaches allowed.
“It was just about us coming together,” Boatright said, “and just making sure everybody does their job and everybody has each other’s back and we’re all playing for each other.
“If all 11 people do their job, there’s no reason we can’t win.”
Gipson and Boatright acknowledge there’s been talk of a Mountain West championship and of going 4-0 in November, something that hasn’t happened at UNM since the 1964 Western Athletic Conference champions finished the season with wins over UTEP, Colorado State, Hawaii and Kansas State. (In case you were wondering, the 1982 team that went 10-1 played only three games in November).
And a 4-0 November, plus a victory in the postseason, would give UNM an eight-game win streak. That last happened, well, never.
Or, that current win streak could end tonight. Davie sees Utah State as (cliché alert) a wounded animal with November ambitions of its own.
“They’re sitting there at 3-6, (and) they’re in survival mode as far as going to their sixth consecutive bowl game,” Davie said. “… And they’re playing at home.”
The Aggies’ home-field advantage isn’t expected to include the bitter cold the Lobos experienced two years ago during a 21-14 loss in Logan. Even for tonight’s 8:15 start, temperatures in the mid- to high 40s are predicted.
New Mexico at Utah State, 8:15 p.m., ESPN2, 770 AM/94.5 FM