Falcons host the Lobos on Friday night with both teams looking for first Mountain West win
The New Mexico Lobos and Air Force Falcons are set to meet Friday night in Colorado Springs, both desperate for a win. New Mexico, which fell to 0-3 with its 27-20 loss to Nevada last week, is still in search of win No. 1 for first-year head coach Danny Gonzales. The Lobos have now lost 12 straight games overall, with the program's last victory coming Sept. 21, 2019.
Air Force is 1-2 this year, but 0-2 in Mountain West play and hasn't won since a 40-7 season-opening victory over Navy on Oct. 3. The Falcons last took the field on Oct. 31 – a 49-30 loss to Boise State, a second straight loss after nine consecutive wins – because games against Army (postponed but not yet rescheduled) and Wyoming (canceled) weren't played due to coronavirus protocols.
New Mexico at Air Force
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 20, at 9:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Air Force -7.5
When New Mexico Has the Ball
New Mexico quarterback Tevaka Tuioti was phenomenal in the opener against San Jose State, throwing for 294 yards with two touchdowns and one interception as well as running for 69 yards and another score. Tuioti added 181 passing yards and 71 on the ground against Hawaii, and tossed two more touchdowns, but left the game after he suffered a hard hit that also sidelined him against Nevada. Trae Hall completed 17 of 32 passes for 195 yards and an interception and ran 16 times for 27 yards against the Wolf Pack. Hall also caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from running back Bryson Carroll for the game's first score. If Tuioti is cleared medically, he is likely to start this week, though both quarterbacks could play.
Receiver Jordan Kress is New Mexico's best offensive weapon and is off to a great start with 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns on eight catches – a 21.3 yards per catch average. However, fellow senior Emmanuel Logan-Greene leads the team with 18 receptions, which have gone for 155 yards, and freshman Andrew Erickson has chipped in with 148 yards and one touchdown on seven catches, giving the Lobos a deeper set of receiving options than in recent years. Carroll also has been a valuable receiver out of the backfield, having caught eight passes for 76 yards.
Interestingly, Carroll, the team's top returning rusher from 2019 when he ran for 536 yards and two touchdowns, has been more productive as a passer and receiver than as a runner so far. His 12 rushing attempts have resulted in just 12 yards. Instead, junior Bobby Cole has emerged as the team's top ball carrier with 226 yards and one touchdown on 226 carries. Freshman Nathaniel Jones, the team's top recruit in the 2020 cycle, has gained 107 yards and scored once on 18 attempts.
When Air Force Has the Ball
One thing's for sure: Air Force will run the option. The Falcons lead the nation in rushing offense (330.0 ypg) and have averaged 5.9 yards per carry, which ranks sixth in the country. However, we don't know who exactly will run it against New Mexico.
In addition to the uncertainties of which players may still be impacted by positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing, Air Force also has dealt with injuries on offense. Quarterback Haaziq Daniels left the Boise State game after hurting his shoulder, and running back Kadin Remsberg (who led the team with 1,050 rushing yards and scored eight touchdowns in 2019) did not play after suffering a leg injury in the loss to San Jose State. Leading rusher Timothy Jackson, who ran for 178 yards on a team-high 34 carries, also did not play against the Broncos.
Daniels ranks third on the team with 134 rushing yards on 26 carries and has completed 13 of 26 pass attempts for 133 yards and one touchdown. If he can't go, Warren Daniels would likely start. Daniels is 3-of-6 for 38 yards as a passer and has gained 115 yards with one touchdown on the ground on 21 attempts.
Brandon Lewis has taken on a bigger role in the offense with 172 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in addition to six catches for 36 yards, both of which rank second to tight end Kyle Peterson (7 receptions, 106 yards, TD). Matthew Murla's workload also has been on the rise. Murla leads the team with three touchdowns after he scored twice against Boise State, and he has gained 44 yards on 13 carries. Elijah Robinson ran for 90 yards on 10 carries in his first action against the Broncos and could be in line for more work depending on the availability of Remsberg and Jackson.
New Mexico has been competitive, which isn't always a given under the direction of a first-time, first-year head coach – especially since the team was forced to relocate its entire operation to Las Vegas. The Lobos have improved most on offense, especially in the passing game, which is good news against an Air Force defense that ranks 117th out of 125 FBS teams with 0.303 Expected Points Added per Pass (one spot ahead of New Mexico's 0.308, for what it's worth). And with Gonzales and defensive coordinator Rocky Long on hand, the defense – which ranks No. 116 in FBS with an average of 498.0 yards allowed per game overall and No. 114 with 6.99 yards allowed per play but ranks No. 8 in EPA per Rush (-0.258) – should follow soon.
Air Force also has struggled on a per-play basis defensively and ranks 92nd with an average of 6.14 yards allowed per snap. However, the young Falcons (who were forced to replace all 11 starters from last year's top-20 unit) still rank in the top 25 in total defense (331.3 ypg) in part because their offensive teammates rank 15th in time of possession (33:41:00 per game).
There's uncertainty on both sides, but Air Force has a more proven track record under head coach Troy Calhoun. Gonzales should win soon, but he may have to wait another week.
Prediction: Air Force 31, New Mexico 21
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions
(Tevaka Tuioti photo courtesy of New Mexico Athletics)