Bob Davie's fourth season at produced seven wins and the Lobos' first bowl appearance since 2007. The defense returns nine starters, but can't afford to take a step back while the offense will need to improve for New Mexico to make it back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2006-07.
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Previewing New Mexico’s Offense for 2016
Despite New Mexico’s rise to prominence last season, coach Bob Davie felt his Pistol option offense took a step backward. The Lobos’ 252.2 rushing yards per game marked the lowest season average in the Davie era by nearly 50 yards. The passing game averaged a four-year high (136.0 ypg), but its 14 interceptions more than doubled the previous high in the Davie regime. UNM had 22 runs of 30 yards or more and three passes of 80 yards or more to rank second and first nationally, respectively, last season. Those were offset, though, by a significant increase in minimal-yardage plays.
Davie believes the surprise element of his Pistol option has faded. He shook up his offensive staff in hopes that some new voices at new positions would help invigorate this unit. Offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse goes from quarterbacks to wide receivers; WRs coach Scott Baumgartner moves to running backs; and RBs coach Apollo Wright, a former college quarterback, will coach QBs.
UNM will still employ a two-QB system with junior Lamar Jordan and senior Austin Apodaca. Though Jordan threw for more yards last season, Apodaca is considered the better passer. Jordan’s 807 rushing yards were third on the 2015 team, and senior tailback Teriyon Gipson returns from an 850-yard campaign that ranked second.
Leading wide receiver Dameon Gamblin is a senior this year. Delane Hart-Johnson, who averaged 29.7 yards per catch last year as a sophomore junior college transfer, returns and is more in-tune with the offense.
The intriguing story heading into the season will be the transition of Cole Gautsche, the team’s quarterback in 2012 and 2013, to tight end. Davie is hoping he can become the chain-moving tight end UNM needs.
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Previewing New Mexico’s Defense for 2016
Third-year coordinator Kevin Cosgrove’s defense looks to build on last season’s vast improvement. His defense returns nine starters from a unit that allowed 81.4 yards per game fewer than in 2014, had 15 more takeaways than in 2013 — the year before Cosgrove was promoted — and recorded 30 sacks.
UNM’s entire starting front six in its 3-3-5 scheme returns and arguably has one of the Mountain West’s best linebacking corps in Dakota Cox, Kimmie Carson and Donnie White, with Maurice Daniels coming off the bench. Cox is two years removed from a torn ACL that interrupted a sophomore season with a 12.9 tackles-per-game average.
The Lobos’ rotation on the line allows them to keep fresh bodies in the lineup, creating more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Senior end Nik D’Avanzo recorded 44 of his 54 tackles in the team’s last eight games last season.
UNM has question marks in the secondary because of key losses, including safety Markel Byrd, who died in a car accident immediately after the 2015 season. Safety Daniel Henry and nickel back Lee Crosby, the most productive players on the back end, return for their senior seasons.
Previewing New Mexico’s Specialists for 2016
How well the Lobos can replace key specialists, including record-breaking kick returner Carlos Wiggins (27.9-yard kick-return average with five career TDs), will help determine the team’s success. Junior Jason Sanders will take over kicking chores, and left-footed recruit Corey Bojorquez will compete to become punter.
After flying under the radar in Davie’s first four seasons, the Lobos will command more attention in 2016. Their rise coincided with their vast defensive improvement in 2015. That defense remains, but the offense must cut down on its mistakes, and the Lobos have to maintain their strong special teams play to reach a second consecutive bowl game.