ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico is looking to keep pushing forward coming off a 9-4 season and consecutive bowl appearances, including the program’s first postseason win since 2007.
The recent success, including the Lobos’ victory over UTSA in the New Mexico Bowl last December, has created a new mindset within the program and brought attention from outside.
“We won seven of our last eight last year,” coach Bob Davie said. “I think there is such a feeling here within the program that we’ve put so much work into this, as players, as coaches, we just don’t want to take a step back. We know how hard momentum is to get and there’s such a fine line between winning and losing so we just don’t want to step back.”
Davie said there’s no question the Lobos have more credibility now.
“Everywhere we go, people have witnessed the turnaround and we do have credibility,” he said. “But it doesn’t get that much easier. It’s very competitive to get young men to come to Albuquerque, New Mexico. … We continue to build the brand. The key thing is, we get an opportunity for a few more guys to visit. If we can get him in here to visit and have the opportunity, we will open his eyes. We’re going to battle for everything we get. And that is really the mindset here.”
Things to watch with the Lobos this season:
RUSHING TO FINISH: The Lobos have created an identity centered on their ground game, which led the country a year ago, averaging 350 yards a game. New Mexico did it in grind-it-out fashion but also with chunk plays, totaling 48 rushing plays of 20 yards or more, including 21 that went for more than 40 yards.
That’s not likely to change, either.
“Our bread and butter will always be the running game and some element of the triple option,” Davie said. “But the amount of work we have put into throwing the football, we can do things so we can be more balanced. I think we’ll open it up because we want to and hopefully not because we have to.”
TIME & TURNOVERS: Although New Mexico can strike quickly on the ground, it has also been one of the best teams in the country at hoarding the ball and grinding the clock.
The Lobos committed just 14 turnovers last season, losing eight of those on fumbles. It’s quite an achievement given the team’s propensity for running plays, particularly on the option, and it placed the team among the top five in the country in fewest turnovers, which had a direct correlation to time of possession.
New Mexico’s time of possession of nearly 34 minutes was sixth in the country.
DEFENSIVE STOPS: Defense has been one of the areas of greatest concern for New Mexico, but since allowing 519 yards a game in 2014, the Lobos trimmed that to a more manageable 395 yards per game last season.
This year, New Mexico is replacing eight starters defensively, relying on backups and junior-college transfers to fill the vacancies.
“We’re talented,” Davie said. “But young. Well, I don’t know that I’d say young but that’s where we’re going to see the new faces.”
A big key will be how well backup linebacker Alex Hart fares at replacing leading tackler Dakota Cox.
CROSSING JORDAN: Senior quarterback Lamar Jordan has essentially shared time under center throughout his New Mexico career, but the job is all his this season and he’s expected to become a bigger factor through the air. He’s passed for 2,621 yards in three seasons and has 2,158 on the ground.
In preparing the defense to face pass-happy opponents, however, “we’ve thrown the ball in practice more than any triple option team in the country,” Davie said. “In doing that, we realize we can throw the football ourselves. All of sudden, we’ve invested three or four years in the passing game and now we have to see if we can do it in the game.”
COACHING CONTINUITY: Davie has made a point of keeping his staff intact as much as possible to maintain consistency.
Offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse has been with the program since Davie came on board six years ago and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove is entering his fifth season with the team.
“We have an identity, both offensively and defensively,” Davie said. “We’re all pulling in the same direction. We’re very aligned and very organized and with the offense we run, that’s very important.”
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