ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico went into the 2017 season seemingly having turned the corner on a long reconstruction project.
That momentum dissipated in the wake of a 3-9 finish that included losing the final seven games. The offseason then brought coach Bob Davie’s monthlong suspension coinciding with all of spring practice.
Now the Lobos enter the 2018 season actively trying to regain a winning form while in the midst of something of an offensive philosophy change to include a more wide-open passing attack to complement what had been one of the country’s top rushing games.
“Another part of the reason for tweaking the offense was being able to get the ball into the hands of some of those guys we knew had the potential to be a home run hitter,” Davie said. “That’s why I think it all fits together with why we’re going in the direction of changing the offense.”
Here are some things to watch as New Mexico prepares to open its season hosting Incarnate Word on Sept. 1.
SUSPENSION FALLOUT: New Mexico suspended Davie for 30 days without pay earlier this year following multiple investigations that examined whether he or the coaching staff interfered with criminal investigations or misconduct cases involving players.
“It’s like that never happened as far as the inner working of this team,” Davie said. “That’s something I’ll never forget, but that’s me personally. I think our football team has an understanding of why it was, but I don’t think they or I have an understanding of why it happened, honestly. It really is of no significance to the players in this building.”
AIR NEW MEXICO: With Calvin Magee joining the staff from Arizona as offensive coordinator, the Lobos offense was bound to undergo a bit of a shake-up. Having made a name for itself as a premier ground attack squad — even completing games with less than five pass completions — New Mexico is set to put a little air under the ball.
“We changed a little bit to match our personnel,” Davie said. “It hasn’t jumped out, that home run guy. Part of that is why we have tweaked the offense. We’ve had that back back there, but last year, you didn’t feel like we quite had it like we used to have it and we knew that wasn’t going to dramatically change.”
While the Lobos may not have the backs that can bust the big one on a consistent basis, slot receivers Jay Griffin IV and Elijah Lilly, a converted defensive back, have shown the capability to make the big play.
WHO’S UNDER CENTER?: There’s an ongoing battle at the quarterback position. Redshirt sophomore Tevaka Tuioti and senior Coltin Gerhart, both of whom saw action last season, are competing with former Tennessee signee Sheriron Jones.
“It’s been fun to watch,” Davie said. “All three of those guys have the skills to do what we’re asking them to do. All three can run pretty good. All three can throw it pretty good.”
OH THOSE TURNOVERS: For the first years under Davie, the Lobos averaged 14 turnovers a season, among the best in the country. Last year, New Mexico committed 29.
“We can talk about a lot of intangible things that seemed to go against us. The dynamics were a little crazy last year because of a lot of things,” he said. “But we turned the ball over 29 times and it still comes back to that. We’ve been really good at being a highly disciplined football team and last year we weren’t. We turned the ball over and we can’t win that way.”