Lobos’ problems are manifold, and solutions are scant

New Mexico coach Bob Davie conducts warmups before the start of an NCAA college football game against Wyoming in Albuquerque, N.M., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

It’s a tough pill to swallow for the University of New Mexico football team.

With more than half of the 2019 regular season schedule still remaining, it appears the Lobos are already in playing-out-the-string mode.

UNM (2-3 overall, 0-1 Mountain West) have dropped what amounted to two straight must-win games the last couple of weeks, all but erasing any realistic hope of hitting the magical 6-win mark for a postseason bowl bid. Their defense ranks among the worst in the FBS, and their offense, minus its 55-point explosion against New Mexico State, can’t seem to keep from shooting itself in the foot.

Give him the platform, and head coach Bob Davie could talk about the defense all day. A former coordinator at some of college football’s most storied programs, he has bigger issues at hand with this year’s Lobos. The offense put the ball on the ground half a dozen times on fumbles in the most recent loss at San Jose State, finishing the game with four interceptions and six turnovers.

It’s the shaky play of that unit that is turning whatever gray hair he has left a chalky shade of white.

The question at quarterback is starting to make a mess of things behind the scenes and it’s starting to create some second-guessing among those watching him. It boils down to one simple thing: Now is the time for purported starter Tevaka Tuioti to play like a starter or step aside and let someone take over.

More to the point, Tuioti may be a first-team star in practice, but he’s not living up to that billing when the lights come on and the games start.

Davie said he’ll wait right up until kickoff Friday before announcing who his starter will be.

“We’re not going to change much,” he said. “We need to execute better. I mean, there have been some, like, really exciting, impressive things but, god dang, the last two weeks we haven’t been as good as we should be.”

He said the concern with Tuioti, a player who seemed to have cemented his name atop the depth chart in spring ball but has been on a steady decline ever since, surrounds his ability to flourish as the guy for the offense.

“In the past he hasn’t been in there long enough to be the guy,” Davie said, referencing his spotty past as the projected No. 1 at quarterback. “So I think that’s a valid point, you know? Whatever it is he hasn’t played as well as well as he is capable of playing the last two weeks.”

He played well enough in the second half against Liberty two weeks ago to give the coaching staff some hope, but his start against San Jose State was so bad that Davie said the team couldn’t afford to wait until the second half to put Sheriron Jones in.

Jones did engineer three touchdown drives but he did so after getting picked off three times and missing on nine of the 16 passes he attempted. Tuioti got the hook after playing most of the first two quarters, throwing an interception and basically short-circuiting the Lobos’ first drive when he pitched the ball off a running back’s chest inside the 10-yard-line on an option play that looked like a sure touchdown.

A missed field goal sparked a 26-0 Spartans lead that left UNM completely out of it.

The New Mexican's James Barron and Will Webber talk about the University of New Mexico football team's struggles ahead of a difficult back half of the season. They also discuss reasons for optimism for St. Michael's following back-to-back wins.

“We needed something to happen right there and we put Sheriron in,” Davie said. “Fair point and maybe a very valid point. He hadn’t been the guy with all the expectations on him and everybody saying, ‘OK, we can be really good now.’ ”

As far as not connecting on explosive plays in the passing game — on offense and defense — the entire team has come up woefully short. The defensive secondary was expected to be the backbone of the unit and all it has done is give up one big play after another.

As for the offense, Davie said it’s all a matter of getting the job done. Or, in this case, not getting it done. The Lobos rank 127th out of 130 FBS teams in total defense and are dead last in passing yards allowed, giving up 386 per game. They rank 125th in scoring defense (39.6) and are tied for 128th in turnover margin (minus-1.8).

“We haven’t executed as good,” he said. “We haven’t gotten the ball to the receiver quite as accurately. You know, it’s not one thing. I don’t thing the schematic piece of it has changed other than I do think we have to be able to run the ball because, like a lot of people, our defense.”

In other words, the longer the offense stays on the field, the less the damage the statistically poor defense can do to the team’s bottom line.

Easier said than done for a team that has no answers in a season quickly circling the drain.

NOTES: Colorado State has lost four straight but the Rams come into this one basically owning the Lobos. They’ve won nine straight in the rivalry and own a 20-14 record in Albuquerque. … CSU head coach Mike Bobo is undefeated in his career against New Mexico, winning all four meetings.

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