As bad as this season has been for the University of New Mexico football team, heading north to play on the Smurf-colored turf of Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium always brings back fond memories of one of the greatest nights in Albuquerque sports history.
It was the fall of 2015 and the Lobos pulled off a stunning 31-24 upset of the Broncos in Boise, Idaho. The game went final within minutes of Albuquerque’s Holly Holm making worldwide headlines for delivering a head kick that knocked out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in Australia.
A lot has changed since then. Holm had and lost the world title. The Lobos went onto a bowl game that 2015 season and won a postseason game the following year, but have since hit the skids, fired the coach and brought in Danny Gonzales to rebuild the program.
On Saturday, the Lobos (3-7 overall, 1-5 Mountain West Conference) head to Idaho for their annual date with Boise State (6-4, 4-2). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Gonzales said one of the signs of Boise State’s dominance is the perception that this has been a down year. The Broncos have won four straight games and are in the thick of the MWC’s race for the Mountain Division title. Still, they’ve lost four games, three of them at home.
One of the setbacks was to nationally ranked Oklahoma State and another on the road at Central Florida after leading 21-0. The others came against Air Force and Nevada.
“It’s a ‘down year,’ and they still have a chance to get into the championship, which is neat for their program,” Gonzales said. “That’s how they’re talked about.”
How the Lobos are talked about begins with youth. They had 18 freshmen play in last weekend’s loss at Fresno State, and the majority of the two-deep roster is underclassmen.
“We’re obviously not a very good football team, but we’ve got the right attitude,” Gonzales said. “They’ll fight and compete.”
Gonzales pointed to freshman running back Aaron Dumas, whose career day was one of the best for a first-year player in UNM history. Dumas was dropped at least half a dozen times by cornerbacks; given some time in the weight room, those tackles will be broken and Dumas will be able to run wild.
“The amount of freshmen that we’re playing, those guys have never been in an offseason weight program for a full term,” Gonzales said. “It speaks volumes about where they need to get to to continue to be successful. If you’re watching, you can see improvement.”
The Lobos began their brutal three-game swing to end the season with last week’s lopsided loss to Fresno State, continue it with the conference’s highest-profile team Saturday, then end it next week at home with a visit from Mountain Division leader Utah State.
“The fact that we can’t go to a bowl game hasn’t changed their mentality,” Gonzales said. “They still have two opportunities to enjoy a locker room after the game. The group last year was in the situation, except we were 0-5.”
The men’s basketball team will play a rare home matinee Saturday, hosting Montana State in The Pit at 2 p.m. The Lobos (2-1) are in the midst of a three-game homestand before heading to Las Vegas, Nev., for a Thanksgiving tournament that will be their first appearance on national television.
UNM welcomes back guard Saquan Singleton, although it’s not clear if he’ll be ready to play until he gets into game shape. The starting guard has missed the last two months after contracting COVID-19 and then laboring through a heart-related issue because of it. He was medically cleared to return to the team earlier this week.