New Mexico comes into the game against the Spartans with a 1-2 record. Initially that fact caused me some panic. I thought to myself, how can they replicate, if not build upon, last year's first winning season in years? But then I checked last season's schedule. A win in week one against an FBS team followed by two losses to start out 1-2. Sound familiar? In short, the Lobos can salvage the season and that starts tomorrow with a conference matchup against San Jose State. Without further ado, below are three keys to New Mexico getting back on track with a win versus the Spartans.
1. Lamar Jordan Must Dominate
The Lobos were off last week and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. Their defense, which has given up 69 points in the last two games, has looked abysmal. Furthermore, with the injury to Austin Apodaca, the team will once again give the ball to Lamar Jordan to run the offense. Even though this isn't his first time behind center, it was good to have that week off to re-integrate him into the first unit.
If you didn't watch the cherry-and-silver last season, then you wouldn't know that Lamar Jordan anchored the triple-option offense. He was the team's third-leading rusher with over 800 yards and had 9 rushing touchdowns, second on the team. Sure he's not the world's best passing quarterback, but the triple-option is predicated on the run and in that area, he excels. Against the Spartans, Jordan will be the man, the unquestioned quarterback behind center.
For the Lobos to have a chance tomorrow, Jordan must pick up from last season, control the pace and time of possession, and make smart decisions in the backfield. While many will suggest that Apodaca is the more well-rounded quarterback (no argument here), I would counter by saying that Jordan is the better fit for this offense. Tomorrow he will hopefully prove me right.
2. Dakota Cox Must Return to Form
All of these three keys are influenced by injury in one way or another. Cox, perhaps the most important piece to UNM's defense along with Nik D'Avanzo, has essentially not played the last six quarters due to a concussion. In that time, the Lobos have not forced a single turnover and the team has given up 54 points. Defenders of the Lobos defense might point to the fact that the Lobos have held their opponent to under 350 yards in each of their contests, but the field position has more to do with that than some incredible defensive stance. As you can see, the opponents are still scoring a lot of points. A healthy Dakota Cox will add some much-needed stability to the defense.
If I could add a second part to this key, it would be that a Cox-led defense needs to hold the lead should the Lobos get it. They have given up two large leads in the last two games and have lost. The offense is putting up the points. Can the defense do their part and hold the opponents' offense?
3. Teriyon Gipson Must Play
Jhurell Pressley left a big void when he graduated after last season. The idea was that Teriyon Gipson would fill those shoes. He is quite capable, but he did not play against Rutgers due to a concussion. Now he is supposed to play tomorrow, but it turns out that there is more to this story. Apparently, Gipson was arrested in January for a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana and a gun. Why this is now an issue is that Coach Davie was only made aware of the issue as of September 13th because Gipson tried to hide it from him. Davie has declared that Gipson would be punished, but to what extent we do not know. While it is not my place to say whether or not Gipson should be punished, one certainty is that this offense looks a lot better with him in the backfield. Like Cox, he is a reliable player who delivers. With Gipson rushing the ball twenty times against the Spartans, the Lobos stand a much better chance to win.
UNM can win tomorrow and they should win. But that's the difference between this year and last year's surprise team. Last year they won the games that they should've won and even some that they shouldn't have. This year they've blown big leads to New Mexico State and Rutgers. In other words, they're losing games that they should win. With that in mind, this game should make for good theater.