By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
It’s a debate that likely will continue among University of New Mexico football fans until the start of fall camp for the 2014 college football season.
Did the 2013 Lobos improve from 2012 under second-year coach Bob Davie?
“I knew taking this job how unique it was, and honestly that’s why I wanted this job, and I’m so encouraged by what we were able to do,” Davie said of 2013. “We’ve built an identity. I think people can see that if we can just get this defense built, then you’ve got a chance to have long-term success. But how long will it take to build that defense? … And that’s the challenge.”
With that said, the argument here says there’s not much of a debate as to whether the team improved from last year. The answer is not yes.
It is a resounding yes.
The Lobos finished the 2013 season with a 3-9 record – the identical record it had in 2012 against FBS schools. This year’s UNM team didn’t have the luxury of playing an FCS school that ended up with a losing record like Southern (4-7 in 2012) had last season.
In 2012, the nine teams that beat UNM had a combined record of 60-55 (a 52.2 winning percentage). In 2013, the nine teams that beat the Lobos had a combined record of 65-43 a (60.2 winning percentage).
The number of losing teams that defeated UNM in 2013 is one; four teams with losing record beat the Lobos in 2012.
The foes that this year’s Lobos beat combined to go 6-30, compared to the 8-28 record the three teams the Lobos beat last year. However, UNM’s average margin of victory in its three wins over FBS schools was 21.3 points per game in 2013. Last year, Bob Davie’s crew won its three FBS games by an average margin of victory of 15.3 points per game.
Then there’s the conference schedule upgrade to consider. The Lobos played Hawai‘i and Nevada in 2012 but replaced those teams with Utah State and San Diego State on the 2013 docket. The Warriors and Wolf Pack are a combined 5-19 this season and 3-13 in conference play. The Aggies and Aztecs are 15-9 overall and 13-3 in conference play.
Everyone recognizes that the offense and special teams were better. The Lobos averaged 7.5 more rushing yards per game and had six more rushing touchdowns than in 2012. Their 40 rushing TDs ranks second on the school’s all-time single-season list (the 1971 team had 42).
New Mexico is No. 8 in the nation in rushing at 308.8 yards per game.
UNM increased its passing attack from 68.8 yards per game in 2012 to 113.0 in 2013 and had nine TD passes, compared to five in 2012. The Lobos converted 38 of 42 chances in the red zone, a 90.5 percent success rate, to rank 11th nationally.
On special teams, senior Ben Skaer led the Mountain West in punting with an average of 45.8 yards per punt. Kick returner Carlos Wiggins led the country with three returns for touchdowns and 1,303 total kick return yards.
The improvements on offense and special teams led to a seven-point scoring average increase this season from last. UNM’s average of 32.8 points per game was just 1.2 points off the school record of 34.0 set in 1982.
The team committed 18 fewer penalties and had 167 fewer penalty yards in 2013 than it did in 2012. The Lobos were tied for fifth in the nation in fewest penalties, averaging 3.67 per game, and sixth in fewest penalty yards at 30.25 per game. Two seasons ago, New Mexico committed 6.3 penalties for an average of 48.5 yards per game.
The naysayers, however, eventually will pull out what they think is their trump card: the defense.
The 2013 defense allowed gave up 516.6 yards per game, while the 2012 defense gave up just 444.2 per game, a difference of 72.4 yards per game.
But yards per game were up league-wide in 2013. Last year, Mountain West offenses averaged 397.7 yards per game. This season, the conference’s teams are averaging 448.4 yards per game, which is a difference of 50.7 yards per game.
Struggling defenses were a common theme across the MW. In the Lobos’ case, they had to play the last 10 quarters of the 2013 season without their starting quarterback (Cole Gautsche) and two-time 1,000-yard running back (Kasey Carrier), which hindered their ability to keep longer possession of the football and protect their defense as they had done in 2012.
This year’s Lobo defense featured six true freshmen who combined to play 66 games with 10 starts. Linebacker Dakota Cox started nine of those games and led the team in tackles with 99 (he is also the top freshman in the Mountain West in tackles). Last year’s unit had eight true freshmen combine for 50 games (that number is skewed two games because UNM played 13 last year) and three starts.
All six true freshmen were prominent on the defense’s two-deep this season; only two of the eight true freshmen had regular roles on the defense last year.
“That’s amazing,” departing senior defensive end Jacori Greer said. “You’re bound to lose games when that happens because of the experience level. But at the same time, the experience they’re able to gain this year for next year will be huge. I can’t wait to see those guys play next year.”
The key for UNM, aside from continuing to restock the shelves in recruiting, will be to continue to get its student-athletes to mature physically through offseason conditioning, continue to bring the passing game along and retool the defense, make it more aggressive and more of a unique scheme like the offense is.
“There are a lot of things that are different now than it was two years ago (before Davie and his staff arrived),” said running back Crusoe Gongbay, who will be a senior in 2014. “The lifting program with coach (and UNM strength and conditioning coordinator Ben) Hilgart is different and just our intensity to win is a lot higher than it was before.”
The quarterback position will be the best that its been in Davie’s tenure with rising redshirt freshmen Lamar Jordan and Caleb Kimbro joining four QBs with playing experience.
Gongbay, 2014 junior Jhurell Pressley and 2014 sophomore Teriyon Gipson combined for 885 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in replacing All-Mountain West candidate Kasey Carrier, who rushed for 2,591 yards in his last two seasons combined. The Lobos also return their entire wide receiver corps and two of their three tight ends.
The Lobos had six players with 100 or more receiving yards this season, tripling the total UNM had last year.
The offensive line will return four players with game experience anchored by a center with 14 career starts in senior-to-be LaMar Bratton.
The 2014 defense will bring back six starters (as opposed to three starters returning in 2013, and the eight first-year players in the rotation in 2013 will be second-year players next season (including rising seniors Brett Bowers and David Guthrie).
Two of the bigger needs to address in the offseason will be at punter in replacing Skaer, an All-Mountain West candidate, and senior kicker Justus Adams, who set the school record with 76 consecutive successful extra-point attempts and made 68 percent of his field goal attempts (17 of 25 for his career).
The 18-member senior class in 2013 completed its task of keeping the building process as strong as it started in 2012.
“These kids, man, I hope people appreciate them,” Davie said of his 2013 team. “I love these kids.
“We see how far we have to go. I’ve talked to all the guys coming back – the young ones that really need to mature. From all this, I think something can be built. So at the end of the day, I’m really proud of them.”