The New Mexico program is at a crossroads after seven straight losses to finish 2017, an offensive scheme change and off-field issues for coach Bob Davie, who served a 30-day suspension during spring practice for a violation of school policy. After leading the nation in rushing offense in 2016, New Mexico saw its rushing average drop by 115 yards per game in 2017. That prompted Davie to make the interesting decision to alter the scheme from a triple-option attack to a more traditional spread option.
Previewing New Mexico Football's Offense for 2018
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The scheme switch entailed the hiring of former Arizona offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, whose mission is to revive a dormant passing attack. Magee has a QB to run his scheme in sophomore Tevaka Tuioti, who earned ample playing time last season despite the presence of then-senior starter Lamar Jordan. Tuioti led the team with 705 passing yards in 2017. Pushing him will be senior Coltin Gerhart (brother of former Stanford standout Toby) and Tennessee transfer Sheriron Jones, who played in junior college last year.
UNM added junior college depth at running back, signing Ahmari Davis to compete for playing time with incumbent Tyrone Owens. Kentrail Moran and Daevon Vigilant also will carry the ball. At wide receiver, the Lobos have several familiar faces expected to take on increased roles. Jay Griffin IV (29 catches, 393 yards, four TDs) had a breakout 2017 season. Seniors Delane Hart-Johnson and Patrick Reed and junior Q' Drennan have the most experience. Dynamic kick returner Elijah Lilly moves from defensive back to wide receiver to give the offense another threat.
Senior guard Aaron Jenkins returns with a chip on his shoulder. There is limited experience elsewhere on the line. Junior college transfers Jarred Sylvester and David Zavala should compete for starting roles.
Previewing New Mexico Football's Defense for 2018
Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove continues to make incremental improvements -- the 2017 Lobos defense allowed its fewest yards per game in nine years. But after amassing 25 takeaways in 2015, UNM's D had just 26 in 2016 and 2017 combined. That, combined with the struggles on offense, contributed heavily to the team's 3–9 record last fall.
Senior end Cody Baker is the leader of the defensive line. Senior Jermane Conyers and junior Aaron Blackwell have experience, and junior college transfers Erin Austin and Trent Sellers add depth.
Likewise, senior middle linebacker Alex Hart has plenty of experience. Rush ends/outside backers Rhashaun Epting and Jordan Flack are back. The Lobos don't have much proven depth.
Cornerbacks Jalin Burrell and D'Angelo Ross are the strength of UNM's defense. They combined for 21 pass deflections last year. Blair Manly and Corey Hightower add depth. Free safety Bijon Parker has experience but must stay healthy. Stanley Barnwell and William Hobdy will take on greater roles in the secondary.
Previewing New Mexico Football's Specialists for 2018
The Lobos must replace stalwarts at both placekicker (Jason Sanders) and punter (Corey Bojorquez) and have recruited incoming freshman kicker Stephen Ruiz and junior college transfer (and Australian-born) punter Tyson Dyer to step in. Lilly, who has two career kick returns for touchdowns, is a difference maker.
If the offense clicks, the defense forces turnovers and little drop-off occurs on special teams, UNM can approach its 2016 form when it went 9-4. Any early struggles, however, could spell disaster.