Another week, another new quarterback for the New Mexico Lobos. If they didn't have bad luck, they wouldn't have any luck at all, it seems.
They're winless in 2020. They've been forced to relocate to Las Vegas due to physical distancing restrictions in Albuquerque. And now, the Lobos are turning to a redshirt freshman pivot to get them off the schneid.
Connor Genal steps up to be the starting quarterback for 'host' New Mexico in a tough spot at Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas against a Wyoming Cowboys team coming off a landslide victory over UNLV.
"It's definitely an opportunity," Genal told reporters ahead of his first NCAA start. "You never know when you're going to get a chance to make an impression, and this is definitely a chance for me if I go out and play good that will speak a lot to what I can do and show the coaches what I can do."
A win over Wyoming? That would be a wow moment for the 0-5 Lobos, which have been left behind at the bottom of the conference standings with UNLV after host Utah State upended them on Thanksgiving in a 41-27 battle of winless programs.
"Honest opinion? We're a terrible football team," Lobos head coach Danny Gonzales told reporters after the squad lost its 14th straight game. "On defense — give up 21 points in a seven-minute period (last Thursday) is absolutely ridiculous."
The Lobos certainly can't do that against the strong offense of Wyoming.
But the Cowboys haven't exactly lit the world afire away from Laramie, with just one win in three road games. However, the 2-2 Pokes should draw momentum from last week's 45-14 smackdown of UNLV, during which they amassed nearly 500 yards.
Wyoming at New Mexico
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Wyoming -17.5
When Wyoming Has the Ball
Wyoming's most lethal weapon might be left under wraps on the sideline Saturday. Star running back Xazavian Valladay hurt his leg against UNLV and is day-to-day heading into the Vegas tilt. The junior has 88 carries for 491 yards and four touchdowns on the year, including one early last week on a 78-yard untouched sprint to the end zone.
Even without Valladay later in the victory, though, the Cowboys kept rolling up the real estate along the ground — good enough for 399 rushing yards, a seven-yards-per-carry average, and six touchdowns. The guy benefitting most from the absence of "X" was Trey Smith. The senior running back paced the Cowboys with a team-high 164 yards on 24 carries.
"Our offensive line did a great job of opening up holes," Bohl told reporters. "Trey kept his feet moving and made some great runs. It was very heartwarming to see him out there and execute at such a high level."
He wasn't the only one producing, as the Cowboys — buoyed by the return of senior offensive lineman Logan Harris after missing a game with mononucleosis — enjoyed 9-for-15 efficiency on third down against UNLV.
Quarterback Levi Williams passed for 99 yards to give him 759 on the year and ran for another 43 with three short touchdowns runs. Redshirt freshman Dawaiian McNeely dashed to 54 yards on 13 carries in his debut, and sophomore Brett Brenton came on in the fourth quarter with 41 yards and his first career touchdown.
Don't expect the Cowboys to get slowed down by New Mexico, either. After all, the Lobos allowed offensively challenged Utah State to run for 209 yards as part of 452 total last week. And the defense is last in the conference against the pass (308 yards).
When New Mexico Has the Ball
Starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti has been out a month with concussion symptoms. Trae Hall is hurting from a rib injury after getting knocked out of last week's loss. And Brandt Hughes won't be available until next year at the earliest after suffering a season-ending injury over the summer.
So cue Genal, described as 'easy-going,' to lead the Lobos at quarterback.
"Honestly, I'm always kind of relaxed — I’m never really stressed out," Genal told reporters. "During game-day, I like to mess around, kind of be relaxed and focused in. You like to have fun, but you don’t want to be distracted."
Focus will be key against a Wyoming defense that can be oh-so daunting.
Last week, the Cowboys held UNLV to just 290 total yards and helped out on the scoreboard by serving up two turnovers that the offense turned into touchdowns. Junior linebacker and captain Chad Muma continued to lead the defense — this time with three sacks on the day. The unit was amped up, as well, by the return of senior lineman Garrett Crall, who had two sacks after coming back from off-season foot surgery.
"Huge lift," Bohl told reporters.
Huge challenge, then, for Genal, who went 5-of-10 for 61 passing yards and one interception in relief of Hall last week. That was after Hall aired it for 63 yards and ran for 70 more. Genal will need help from across the board to give the Lobos a chance.
Bobby Cole leads the team with 279 yards and a trio of touchdowns on 57 carries, while Andrew Erickson is the team's top pass-catcher with 15 grabs for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Erickson had five catches for 55 yards against Utah State.
The only downside seemingly for the Cowboys is losing a couple of veterans, in receiver Gunner Gentry and nose tackle Cole Godbout, to COVID contact tracing this week. Otherwise, they look to fire on all cylinders against winless New Mexico just like they did against winless UNLV last week.
Funny enough, the second-straight game is in the same city — but in a different stadium — since the Lobos have made Vegas their home this fall.
"The state of (New Mexico) has got a pretty stringent guideline. And so, as a result, their football team had to relocate, and that’s quite an undertaking ... they’ve been away from their families," Bohl told reporters, praising the Lobos for meeting the challenge of a tough campaign. "We applaud their willingness to keep on playing and go ahead and field a football team and incur some expense. So kudos to their president, their coaching staff and their players."
Just don't expect Bohl & Co. to roll over. The Cowboys are likely to do the opposite — that is... roll over the Lobos.
Prediction: Wyoming 32, New Mexico 12
Podcast: Coaching Carousel and Week 14 Preview and Predictions
(Bobby Cole photo courtesy of @UNMLoboFB)