First of all, kudos to the University of Arizona for being the 2015 New Mexico Bowl Champions after defeating New Mexico 45-37 Saturday afternoon.
This was a high-scoring affair that featured a lot of offense and not a lot of great defense. To give you an example of New Mexico's poor defense, the Wildcats posted 45 points but only had possession of the ball for 19:08 during the game. To be fair, some of that onslaught had to do with wonderful field position for UA. For instance, a second quarter 47 yard kickoff return by Tyrell Johnson allowed Arizona to score on a quick 4 play, 51 yard drive right before halftime.
A third quarter interception by Lamar Jordan (3/9 for 110 yards, two interceptions and 135 yards and three touchdowns rushing) gave Arizona the ball in the red zone. But make no mistake about it, Arizona's offense was moving the ball with little difficulty. New Mexico had the ball twice as long as Arizona, but only had 5 more total yards at the end of the game than their Tucson opponents (508 to 503). That's typically not a good sign.
Indeed, UNM's defense struggled mightily in this one, giving up 329 passing yards and two touchdowns to Anu Solomon. One of these two touchdowns included a 78 yard touchdown pass to Cayleb Jones (4 catches for 182 yards) with 7:26 left in the first quarter that got the Arizona offense moving.
While the pass plays obviously hurt the Lobos, it was their inability to make tackles on the run game that hurt the most, particularly at the end of the game when drive-stopping tackles were missed. Running backs Jared Baker (107 yards) and Orlando Bradford (61 yards) kept New Mexico's offense off the field with crucial third down and fourth down runs in the fourth quarter after struggling to convert on them for most of the game.
Furthermore, penalties and turnovers killed New Mexico's momentum throughout the games: they had eight penalties for 95 yards (to Arizona's four penalties for 30) and three interceptions. Two of those (one by Jordan in the third, and one by Austin Apodaca on UNM's last drive) effectively ruined UNM's comeback. And though not turnovers, Apodaca (7/12 for 79 yards) had two terrible pitches out of the option that resulted in recovered UNM fumbles. These created long-yardage situations that were taxing for a running team.
I don't blame Apodaca for the fumbles anymore than I blame Jordan for his two interceptions. Sure, both men made poor decisions in that moment, but who calls a pass play for Lamar Jordan on New Mexico's own 1 yard line? And why Coach Davie insists on having Apodaca run the triple option perplexes me, even if Apodaca had a rushing touchdown. Don't misunderstand me, I respect Davie for guiding UNM back to respectability, but these are some questionable calls.
New Mexico's comeback came largely under the watch of Austin Apodaca. Apodaca entered the game trailing 31-42 and UNM had just gotten the ball back following a Lamar Jordan touchdown run and a gorgeous onside kick from Jason Sanders.
Apodaca quickly put six points on the board with a four yard run that was set up by Jhurell Pressley (12 carries for 61 yards) and Teriyon Gipson (15 rushes, 84 yards). A failed two point conversion couldn't stop their momentum: suddenly the cherry and silver were down 42-37. They even had a chance to take the lead after a missed Arizona field goal but were unable to capitalize when Scooby Wright sacked Apodaca on fourth down. Apodaca had time, but couldn't find any open receivers. The Wildcats tacked on another field goal to stretch the lead to eight.
New Mexico had one final chance with 1:32 left, but an Apodaca interception put an end to the drive.
Just a few final thoughts: it has been a pleasure watching and commenting on the University of New Mexico football program this year. They played in a lot of exciting and highly entertaining games and though they did not win them all, to see a competitive brand of football in Albuquerque again is a real pleasure.
I mentioned that they did not win them all, but they did finish with their first winning record (7-6) since 2007. That is no laughing matter. Thinking ahead to next year, I remain interested in seeing how the quarterback battle evolves.
For now, it is time for Lobo fans to turn their attention to a solid basketball team.