UNM's quarterback quandry leaves Lobos searching for answers

Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE

Two weeks ago, New Mexico was on a two-game winning streak and fans were talking bowl bid. But since then UNM's two signal callers - freshman Cole Gautsche and senior B.R. Holbrook have both suffered injuries in back-to-back games. With Gautsche hobbled and Holbrook out for the foreseeable future, the Albuquerque Journal reports that the Lobos are looking for a way to finish the march to bowl eligibility.

The New Mexico Lobos lost more than just a game to the Fresno State Bulldogs and the Air Force Falcons the week before. They lost both of their front line quaretrbacks -- true freshman Cole Gautsche and senior B.R. Holbrook. Gautsche was actually injured in UNM's win over the Hawaii Rainbows the week before the game at Air Force.
Holbrook suffered a minor concussion against the Falcons then, as Gautsche sat on the sidelines inactive against Fresno St., Holbrook suffered a separated shoulder, placing junior college transfer Quinton McCown behind center (a back up center, as starting center Dillon Ferrell was sidelined with a stinger in his left shoulder).

The Lobos' first half lead against the Bulldogs disappeared in the second half as Fresno State was able to concentrate solely on UNM's running attack, stack 8 and even 9 men in the box and completely snuff UNM's offensive spark.

So where do the Lobos go from here. Monday's story in the Albuquerque Journal by beat writer Rick Wright has a lot of answers to the current QB situation as well as insight into he team's preparation and play calling in the past few weeks.

Here are the main points:
  • Coach Davie is "cautiously optimistic about the Lobos’ quarterback situation."
  • Cole Gautsche suffered a neck injury (not a neck stinger) and might be available next Saturday against UNLV. His status will be "day-to-day."
  • B.R. Holbrook suffered a shoulder separation. The good news: he won't have to undergo surgery. The bad news: he's not likely to return until the final game of the season against the Colorado State Rams.
This puts Quinton McCown front and center as far as game plans go. Until Gautsche is cleared, Q is No. 1 quarterback. And if Cole is cleared, MCCown will need to be ready to go at a moments notice or even be platooned in and out of the game as Holbrook has been.
  • Coach Davie is looking to expand the Wildcat offense package UNM is currently running with Flash and K.C. acting as the trigger man/quarterback. Sounds like passing is less likely if there's more Wildcat being run.

“Even if Cole is ready, we’re still going to have to get more productivity from different guys at that position,” Davie said.

  • UNM has worked on the Wildcat since Fall camp -- O.C. Bob Debesse ran several plays out of the Wildcat to some success at Sam Houston St. But "as he and Davie pared down the playbook to eliminate things that hadn’t been consistently executed, these plays disappeared."

“We’ve been pretty conservative with it,” Davie said. “The next step is, we have to become a little more aggressive with it. We have no other choice.”

  • Wright reports that the Lobos' full Wildcat package includes an option element but getting the kind of "precise execution from a non-quarterback" -- from making the right decision all the way to the actual pitch may be asking a lot of a non-signal caller.
“Always, the biggest issue is ball security,” Davie said. “… It’s always a little bit of a risk taking a guy as a wildcat quarterback and asking him to do all that stuff.”

Coach Davie's final comment says it all

“More than ever, it’s all about us. It’s us trying to put a plan together. … It’s a pretty significant challenge for us.”

So far this season, Davie has managed his offense like most defense-minded coaches do in football -- college or pro.
They keep the risks down, concentrating on securing the ball and having a play caller who keeps the offense calling high percentage plays with an eye out for big plays.

But with his experiences senior quarterback gone for at least three games and his developing freshman quarterback now twice injured with concussions, Davie sees that to make this season more than just a rebuilding season - to make a special season, a winning season after three wretched years of losing - he and Debesse will need to take some of the limitations away from the offense.

If it works, they'll be hailed as miracle workers.

If it fails, they'll still have the respect of the community and of college football watchers for turning one of the worst programs in the country into a team that other teams at least respect.

Opening up the offense is a risk. But the reward is high.

And the risk? Well, ask

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