The first game of the season is always difficult to predict, and this year is no different. We have a University of New Mexico team coming off of a winning season that surprised everyone. Although the Davie-era has seen drastic improvement for UNM's football program, history would suggest that last season may have been an anomaly. But what if it wasn't? What if the Lobos are on an upward trajectory?
Further complicating the matter is the fact that the Lobos are only returning five starters from last year's offense. Among those five is quarterback Lamar Jordan. Though he may not play every snap tonight, the Lobos will look to him to give the offense stability and order. Joining him will be running back Teriyon Gipson who is surely to have even more responsibility (and carries) than last year. Barring a disaster, he will be a 1,000 yard back this season and the Lobos will rely on him heavily in their triple option offense.
Indeed, behind their triple option, the Lobos had the 9th best running game in the nation last season with an average of 253 rushing yards per game. This trend will absolutely continue with the caveat that the Lobos can opt to put a more-seasoned Austin Apodaca behind center to improve their passing offense. This year New Mexico has some tantalizing speed in Emmanuel Harris and size in Delane Hart-Johnson, Patrick Reed, and tight end Cole Gautsche.
Tonight will be a good test for the Lobos. The University of South Dakota was 5-6 last season in the Missouri Valley Conference and their defense was no slouch. The Coyotes, an FCS team, only gave up 160 rushing yards per game last season and 345 total yards. However, they will be without their starting inside linebacker John Wessel (injury). They too have a quarterback battle and a new head coach to boot. Moreover, 40 percent of the team has never played for USD before. That is not a good stat for a team that was turnover-prone last season. In the end, all of this change will be too much for the Coyotes to handle.
UNM's offense will be able to run all over the Coyotes tonight. Their defense, led by Nik D'Avanzo and Dakota Cox, will wreak havoc on an unstable offense that has yet to name a starter at quarterback. I expect the Lobos defense to fuel their offense with a couple of turnovers that will put the Lobos in good position. New Mexico will start the season 1-0.
This game kicks at 7 p.m. MT on ROOT SPORTS or you can listen to the home call.