SAN JOSE, Calif. — No need to worry about a third straight 3-2 start to a season ending with a seven-game losing streak.
The University of New Mexico football team started poorly, came on just enough to make it interesting and then lost 32-21 to San Jose State in its Mountain West Conference opener on Friday night. The Lobos, 2-3, committed half a dozen turnovers, missed a short field goal and had a punt blocked in what amounted to a frustrating night for UNM on both sides of the ball.
The Lobos even turned to their backup quarterback to ignite a stagnant offense, a move that worked well at times, not so much in others.
When it was over, New Mexico had lost its second straight game and headed home with serious questions about who should be the team’s top QB. Starter Tevaka Tuioti had a miserable 4-for-10 start with an interception. He was pulled in the second quarter in favor of Sheriron Jones, who sparked the offense but had his own issues protecting the ball.
Jones passed for 115 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for a third score, but he was picked off three times and had one of his best drives cut short when running back Ahmari Davis fumbled inside the San Jose State red zone.
The Lobos got the start they wanted, pinning the Spartans (3-2, 1-1) deep in their own territory on the opening kick and then forcing a turnover on the game’s fourth play when quarterback Josh Love was hit in the backfield and fumbled the ball. UNM drove to the Spartans’ 11 but stalled right there, giving sure-fire kicker Andrew Shelley a 28-yard chip shot. He missed.
San Jose State drove 80 yards in six plays, ending it with an Isaia Holiness 8-yard touchdown run to break a scoreless tie. The Spartans had an opportunity to add to the lead in the final minute of the first quarter but UNM defensive lineman Nahje Flowers blocked a 41-yard field goal attempt to keep it close.
That proved to be one of the few highlights in the first half for New Mexico. The Lobos had a Tyson Dyer punt partially blocked, had a Tuioti pass picked off in the end zone, had backup Jones intercepted on his first attempt, had receiver Bryson Carroll lose a fumble inside his own 5-yard line and saw San Jose State go on three scoring drives of at least 80 yards.
That included five plays of 35 yards or more in the first quarter and a half.
The fact that UNM held the Spartans to a pair of field goals and blocked an extra point was a big reason it was only 26-7 at halftime. It could have been — should have been — far worse. Love passed for 326 yards and two touchdowns in the first half despite missing time in the second half due to an injury.
To add insult to injury, referee Scott Campbell accidentally called UNM “New Mexico State” when clarifying a touchback call over the stadium’s public address system in the final five minutes of the second quarter.
UNM’s lone breakthrough in the first half was on a 75-yard drive capped by a Jones touchdown pass to Jordan Kress from 34 yards out. Jones had a 29-yard run just three plays before.
It was Jones who helped the Lobos climb off the mat and provide a little hope. He led UNM on a scoring drive in the third quarter and another one in the fourth, but the constant barrage of turnovers, penalties and failures to stop San Jose State when it mattered proved to be too much to overcome.
Jones was the team’s leading rusher with 104 yards while Davis had 96, but it was the lethargic passing attack that truly hurt. Jones and Tuioti were a combined 11-for-26 with four of the turnovers directly attributed to them.
The Lobos dropped to 6-15 in MWC openers. … The loss was the 600th in school history. The Lobos started playing football in 1892 and are now 487-600-31 all-time. … Shelley’s missed field goal was his first of the season. He had made seven straight through the first four games. … UNM defensive back Kameron Miller was ejected for targeting on San Jose State receiver Jermaine Braddock with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter. A senior from Las Cruces, Miller must skip the first half of next week’s game against Colorado State. … Looking for some positive news? The Lobos ranked 129th out of 130 FBS teams in total defense, giving up 526 yards a game. San Jose State finished with 464 yards. The Lobos held them to 52 yards rushing but Love threw for 405 with two touchdowns and a 179.5 passer rating.