New Mexico’s steady improvement under head coach Bob Davie reached a new level last season as the Lobos went 9-4, tied for first in the Mountain West Mountain Division, and beat UTSA in the New Mexico Bowl to close the campaign out. The Lobos are replacing roughly half (10) of the starters from last year’s team but there are still enough pieces in place for them to remain relevant in the division. Exactly how relevant will likely come down to the improvement in the passing game and the impact that the new starters on defense, many of them junior college transfers, are able to make on the field.
Previewing New Mexico Football’s Offense for 2017
This could finally be the year New Mexico sheds the two-quarterback system that has been in place since coach Bob Davie’s arrival in 2012. Senior Lamar Jordan, who has been involved in a platoon since his redshirt freshman year in 2014, enters this season as the man. With Jordan at the controls for most of last season, the Lobos led the nation in rushing and return five of their six leading rushers from a year ago, including Tyrone Owens, who had 1,097 yards. UNM loses Teriyon Gipson and his 1,269 rushing yards, but Romell Jordan, who missed 2016 with a knee injury, and Coltin Gerhart, a tailback/quarterback and the brother of Stanford All-American Toby Gerhart, should help fill the void.
So much for the fear Davie had last year that opponents had figured out the Lobos’ triple-option. Lamar Jordan rushed for 749 yards on a 6.5-yard average and also improved his passing over the course of the season. The sample size is small — New Mexico attempted fewer passes than all but four teams last season — but Jordan completed 7-of-9 attempts for 199 yards in the final two games of the 2016 season.
Jordan will have a big-time weapon in the passing game. Delane Hart-Johnson returns in 2017 after suffering broken vertebrae from a car accident in May 2016. The 6'4" Hart-Johnson, who runs a 4.6 40, headlines a unit that has a lot of playing experience.
UNM has four offensive linemen returning with ample experience but must fill a void at left tackle. Still, the experience should help an offense that led the nation with 129 runs of 10-plus yards last season. Among the starters is another brother of a famous athlete — Avery Jordan is the brother of Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre.
Previewing New Mexico Football’s Defense for 2017
Fourth-year defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove has transformed a unit that gave up 516.2 yards per game in the season before he ascended to coordinator to one that allowed 394.8 yards last season. UNM, however, returns just three starters — defensive end Garrett Hughes, outside linebacker Kimmie Carson (who missed the spring to focus on academics) and nickel back Jake Rothschiller.
Davie says his new starters could be more physically talented than the players they’re replacing. Senior Kene Okonkwo and junior Cody Baker bring more experience to the defensive line, but the Lobos are high on Teton Saltes, a 6'4", 264-pound redshirt freshman from Albuquerque.
Senior outside linebacker Austin Ocasio and junior inside linebacker Alex Hart step into bigger roles as front-of-the-rotation players, and UNM also has big hopes for redshirt freshman Rhashaun Epting.
UNM has question marks in the secondary. Safety Bijon Parker and cornerback Jadon Boatright are veterans. The Rothschiller brothers, Jake and Kyle, bring a lot of energy to the safety spot, and dynamic athlete Elijah Lilly could become a key part of the cornerback rotation.
Previewing New Mexico Football’s Specialists for 2017
This is the strength of the team. Placekicker Jason Sanders (12-of-13 on field goal attempts), punter Corey Bojorquez (a 47.3-yard average over his last six regular-season games), kick returner Lilly (a 27.4-yard average with one TD) and punt returner Chris Davis (6.8-yard average) all return.
The Lobos are replacing several players from a 9–4 squad, including a key group of seniors who helped elevate the program. Davie dipped into the junior college ranks to help fill the void. How well the new players fill the depth chart, especially on defense, could determine whether or not UNM can remain in the upper echelon of the Mountain Division. Boise State appears to be the team to beat, but the race for second place should be tight.
National Ranking: 96
MW Mountain Prediction: 5
(Garrett Hughes photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Athletics)