Danny Gonzales has to be feeling the heat in Albuquerque. On his backside, in particular.
Now on a seven-game slide, the New Mexico Lobos seem to be waging a losing war in trying to keep their head coach off the hot seat.
And it doesn't get any easier for Gonzales and the 2-8 Lobos when the 6-4 — and improving — San Diego State Aztecs invade town Friday for a Mountain West affair at University Stadium.
"There are expected results when you make a change at this point in the program, and those expected results are to win football games," said Gonzales, whose Lobos are winless in four since installing Heath Ridenour as offensive coordinator in place of fired coach Derek Warehime. "It's not to hire a guy and have to let him adjust. We are a competitive football team despite some of the lopsided scores you see and as frustrated as people get, but we are still on the path to compete for a conference championship."
However, not this year.
New Mexico is winless in six Mountain West games in 2022 — including last week's 35-3 loss at Air Force — so the Lobos are well out of that playoff picture.
The aim now is to turn it around in the final two weeks of the schedule, put a positive spin on another frustrating season, and — perhaps — save Gonzales' job.
But they won't find get much mercy from the Aztecs, who have their own goals in the offing. They'd like to make it nine straight wins against New Mexico.
Plus, after becoming bowl eligible with last week's 43-27 home win over San Jose State, San Diego State remains in the hunt for the West Division title and the conference crown. The Aztecs are 4-2 in Mountain West action in a bid to make the title tilt.
"Really proud of the guys," head coach Brady Hoke told reporters after the win over SJSU. "I am really proud of how we finished the football game (last Saturday), and we have been doing that for the last couple weeks, and we have to keep doing that. We didn't start out the game the way we would like to have, but I think they all came together (last Saturday)."
Yes, it's come together just fine lately for the Aztecs.
San Diego State at New Mexico
When San Diego State Has the Ball
There are two big reasons for the SDSU's turnaround from a 2-3 start. One was the hire of offensive coordinator Jeff Horton after five games. And the other was the move to quarterback Jalen Mayden, also after five games.
Together, they've helped guide San Diego State to four wins over the last five games. The only loss came in a late-game collapse to Fresno State — a 32-28 close shave — that keeps the Aztecs from owning their own destiny in chasing a spot in the Mountain West finale.
Behind Horton and Mayden, the offense has been plenty productive, averaging 10 more points a game in the last five than it did in the first four contests against FBS foes.
The QB-turned-safety-turned-QB-again ran for 61 yards and passed for 268 and three touchdowns last week against San Jose State. That effort made him a Mountain West player of the week.
"I would say 'hats off' as much as anything," said Hoke of the Mayden's performances. "I think it's just his complete handling of the offense. When you're getting all the signals from the sideline and how you present that to the rest of the offense is huge. When I played, I was an inside linebacker, and I called the defense, and that was always important. I kind of relate it to that, and there is some learning to it, obviously. His composure is something that helps him be as good as he is."
In just a short time, Mayden has moved the needle to become one of the conference's top passers. He's throwing with 65.9 percent completion accuracy for 1,253 yards and eight TDs to boast a 155.5 pass efficiency rating.
The senior is making good use of his many weapons, including top pass-catchers Tyrell Shavers (team-high 477 yards, Jesse Matthew (367 yards and a team-high 32 catches), and Mekhi Shaw (223 yards).
But what's a Hoke offense without balance with the likes of running backs Jordan Byrd (76 att., 364 yds.), Jaylon Armstead (47, 308), Chance Bell (46, 204), and Kenan Christon (58, 173)? Mayden himself has 171 rushing yards in helping to turn the team's fortunes around.
And should that continue this week, it'll most likely be because of the 1,634 rushing yards San Diego State has racked up this season. New Mexico allowed 428 to triple-option Air Force last week and ranks 90th nationally in run defense (164.1 ypg).
"We are not good on offense," lamented Gonzales. "We are OK on defense, and if we could score some points and possess the ball and move the ball we'd be a lot better on defense. That's my responsibility."
When New Mexico Has the Ball
Move over, Iowa. You've got company in the offensively challenged department of FBS football.
In fact, New Mexico is worse than Iowa. It's dead-last at moving the ball, counting only 2,395 total yards for an average of just 239.5 yards per game.
"Obviously, we are not even close to being good enough on offense," Gonzales said. "Or even average."
In fact, the Lobos have gotten worse in their last four games — three of which have come after Gonzales made a quarterback change, putting sophomore Justin Holaday under center instead of senior Miles Kendrick.
In that span, they've manufactured just one TD. They've scored just 13 points in their last two games. And they are averaging 11.8 points per game against FBS foes.
Nothing seems to be working.
A big reason why is New Mexico's porous offensive line. QBs have been sacked 36 times in the season's 10 tilts.
So Kendrick managed just 863 passing yards and a 58.7 completion percentage before he was replaced by Holaday, who's compiled just 222 passing yards with an ugly 44.1 completion percentage.
But Holaday has shown he can run.
"He's a good athlete," sophomore wide receiver Luke Wysong, the team leader in receptions with 27, told reporters. "He knows how to make moves in the open field."
Trouble is that's not enough.
Last week, the Lobos rushed for just 44 yards against Air Force. Combined with the poor passing attack — only four teams in the country average less than the Lobos' 108.5 ypg, and three of those are triple-option teams where passing is an afterthought — they amassed just 172 total yards in Colorado.
Holaday threw 10-for-21 passing for 128 yards and was sacked five times. The team converted just eight first-downs, hardly making for a productive offense.
So all the scoring has fallen to freshman kicker Luke Drzewiecki, who has eight field goals in his last four games, is 9-of-12 on field-goal attempts this season, and has made all five extra points.
Outside the kicker, Wysong, and fellow receiver Geordon Porter — with a team-high 303 yards on 19 catches — the bright spot is Nathaniel Jones. He has the only Lobos TD in the last month — a 24-yard run — and a healthy 4.3-yard average for 466 yards on 108 carries. And he'll be someone the Aztec defense will key on.
"What we want to achieve is to keep an opponent under 100 yards (rushing)," Hoke said. "So far, we've done a good job since we started doing that."
It's senior night in Albuquerque. One final time to say goodbye to those players who've served the Lobos well for a long time. And they'd like to go out on a winning note.
"You have to go out there and play the game like it's your last game," New Mexico senior linebacker Reco Hannah told reporters. "Especially with the younger guys, it's build off of that. We've got to shift the culture.
"Win, lose or draw, you've got to go hard."
That might not be enough, however, against a staunch San Diego State crew that's trending upward in the Mountain West. They're on their own mission to make the season memorable.
"Everybody knows that we have a short week this week, but that is no excuse," added Hoke. "It's just a shorter week. We have work to do, and our guys (have to get) back to it."
Prediction: San Diego State 35, New Mexico 17
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