It's been an identical start for both the New Mexico Lobos and the San Jose Spartans through the first four weeks of the NCAA season — win one, lose one, win one, lose one. So something's gotta give when these two teams meet Friday night at San Jose's CEFCU Stadium.
And that something will be the first conference win of the campaign for one of the Mountain West rivals. Both teams head in with 2-2 overall records, but San Jose State is 0-1 in conference action while this is the first Mountain West tilt for New Mexico.
Conference wins were hard to come by for both teams last season, as each went 1-7 in Mountain West play. In fact, a win for the Lobos would match their total from 2018 while a victory for the Spartans would equal their output over the last two seasons combined.
Points shouldn't be too hard to come by as both teams rank at the bottom of the Mountain West and the FBS in total defense. The Spartans are 11th in the conference and 115th nationally at 456.5 yards per game allowed while The Lobos are last in the Mountain West and second to last in the FBS (129th) at 526.
New Mexico at San Jose State
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 4, at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: San Jose State -6.5
When New Mexico Has the Ball
Bob Davie's Lobos like to run the rock. Last week against Liberty, they ran the ball 43 times compared to 26 pass attempts but it wasn't enough as the Flames won 17-10.
For the season, New Mexico has 172 rushing attempts compared to 123 passes. The Lobos are fourth in the Mountain West at 205.8 rushing yards per game even though they are sixth in carries.
Central to that ground attack is senior running back Ahmari Davis, who's fourth in the conference with 361 rushing yards. He's averaging better than five yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns. Bryson Carrol is next with 168 yards and a score on the ground and both quarterbacks (Tevaka Tuioti and Sheriron Jones) are capable of making things happen with their legs. They have combined for 172 yards and two TDs (both belonging to Jones) on 29 carries (6.2 ypc).
As a team, the Lobos haven't been as successful throwing the ball. Tuioti, Jones and Brandt Hughes have combined for more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four) while completing 46 percent of their passes. They do spread the ball around as 15 different players have recorded at least one catch with Jay Griffin IV leading the way in terms of receptions (eight) and Jordan Kress having the most yards (169 on just four catches) and touchdowns (two).
San Jose State is not known for playing lockdown defense, as evidenced by the 382 rushing yards the Spartans gave up to Air Force last week, but the Spartans have been able to rise to the occasion. In their two wins, they have allowed a total of 241 yards and no scores on the ground. That includes giving up just 131 on 32 carries in the big victory over Arkansas two weeks ago. SJSU will need a similar effort to slow down New Mexico's running game.
When San Jose State Has the Ball
Behind QB Josh Love, the Spartans have taken a different approach on offense. Last in the Mountain West and 107th nationally in rushing offense (118 ypg), San Jose State is fifth in passing offense (284.8 ypg).
Love is averaging more than 250 passing yards per game and has thrown five touchdowns compared to just one interception. The result has been a more productive attack that produced 503 yards in the much-celebrated win over Arkansas and is averaging more than 400 per game. Last season, San Jose State finished 123rd in the FBS with 324 yards of offense per game.
Last week against Air Force, the Spartans nearly reached their average (278 yards) but were unable to convert on four fourth-down attempts, including one at the Falcons' one-yard line, in the 41-24 loss.
As productive as Love has been, he needs more support from the running game. Backup QB Nick Nash is the leading rusher right now with 203 yards on 28 carries followed by running back DeJon Packer (155 yards). When he does pass, Love will look to Tre Walker (18 rec., 230 yds.), Bailey Gaither (13, 168), and Isaiah Hamilton (13, 155) to help him make plays.
And San Jose State should be able to move the ball and put some points on the board against a New Mexico defense that has yet to hold any opponent to fewer than 466 yards. The Lobos have been particularly vulnerable against the pass, giving up 380 yards per game and 13 touchdowns with just one interception thus far.
Neither New Mexico nor San Jose State is known for their defensive prowess so points shouldn't be a problem on Friday night. But the Spartans seem to boast better scoring potential — and a better resume on the season. They should be able to put up enough points — backed by the home crowd — to pick up their third win of this season, a level they haven't been at since going 4-8 in 2016.
Prediction: San Jose State 40, New Mexico 30
(Top photo by Terrell Lloyd, courtesy of sjsuspartans.com)