Apodaca plays all but one series as Lobos roll over South Dakota
ALBUQUERQUE — One man, one voice.
In a move that was as surprising as it was refreshing, The University of New Mexico broke from a dual-quarterback system and handed the keys to just one player during Thursday night’s season opener at University Stadium.
Senior Austin Apodaca got the start in favor of incumbent junior Lamar Jordan.
If Thursday’s 48-21 rout of South Dakota was any indication, we might be seeing a lot more of Apodaca in the coming weeks. He played all but one series, passing for 172 yards and two touchdowns while nearly equalling his rushing total from all of last season with 41 yards in leading UNM to 615 total yards of offense.
Apodaca said he found out he was going to start following Tuesday’s practice.
“You get a little bit more comfortable knowing you’re the guy and you’ve got a couple days to just unwind and kind of take a deep breath and get after it,” he said.
He did just that, deferring to running back Teriyon Gipson on the first play of the game. The simple handoff produced a 75-yard touchdown run just 12 seconds in.
Gipson finished with 182 yards on just eight carries, most of the damage coming on his first two attempts when he followed his initial TD run with a second trip to pay dirt from 84 yards away.
With his parents in the stadium looking on, Gipson said he knew he was going the distance both times he crossed the line of scrimmage. He also said having one quarterback made a huge difference for the entire offense.
“Having one quarterback, it’s kind of like you get used to him,” he said. “You know what his reads are going to be, how his pitches are going to be. You don’t have to deal with two different quarterbacks, two different pitches so having one quarterback is kind of good. It helps us as a running back group.”
The Lobos did give up a pair of early touchdowns as the Coyotes took a short-lived 14-7 lead with six minutes remaining in the first quarter. After Gipson’s second touchdown run tied it, the Lobos rattled off another 24 unanswered points to put the game away.
South Dakota amassed 165 yards offense in the first 9 minutes, 10 seconds of the game. They had just 158 yards over the final 50-plus minutes. The key, said UNM head coach Bob Davie, was to not panic.
“It’s so important in these kind of games that one pin doesn’t take all the air out of the balloon,” he said. “I’ve been in these kind of games where all of a sudden you can lose a game like that.”
Senior linebacker Dakota Cox concurred, saying it’s crucial to stick to the basics rather than throw out the playbook and start all over.
“It’s such a mature defense,” Cox said. “We knew what understood what we needed to do.”
Cox had a game-high 14 tackles, one sack and an interception. Two of his stops were behind the line of scrimmage.
With South Dakota quarterback Chris Streveler having his way in the Coyotes’ no-huddle offense early in the game, stopping him was all a matter of two simple adjustments. Cox said the first was to stay at home and dimply do their jobs.
Davie said the other was to dump the defense’s blitz packages and zero in on Streveler, a bruising run-first quarterback who began his career at the University of Minnesota. After a UNM fumble deep in South Dakota territory, Streveler led a long scoring drive to snap a 7-7 tie.
“It’s almost a perfect storm,” Davie said. “They’re moving the ball on us, we can’t stop ’em, we leave points on the field. On a first down we fumble. But I think it’s a credit to our team, maturity wise.”
Once that part of the game was neutralized, it was up to Apodaca to take charge. He did just that by completing 12 of 16 passes, threading second quarter touchdown passes of 62 yards to Matt Quarells and 26 yards to Q’ Drennan.
“Just to get in a rhythm is nice,” Apodaca said. “For any quarterback it’s nice. Any player would say that.”
NEWS AND NOTES
NBA All-Star and recently minted Olympic gold medalist DeAndre Jordan was on the sidelines for Thursday’s games. Wearing a faded red UNM t-shirt, he was there to watch his younger brother, Avery, an offensive lineman for the Lobos. The Clippers’ forward spent most of his time hovering around the 15 yard line at the south end of the stadium, taking time to pose for dozens of photos with fans. … The Lobos wore white helmets for the first time since the final game of the 2011 season. … New Mexico attempted 19 passes on the night, which is a good thing. In the Davie era, the Lobos are just 1-10 in games in which they throw the ball 20 or more times. … UNM travels to New Mexico State next week. The Aggies open their season Saturday at UTEP. … Gipson’s two rushing touchdowns give him 21 for his career, tying him with former UNM head coach Rocky Long for ninth place on the school’s all-time list. The standard is 51 by DonTrell Moore. No. 2 on the list is Jhurell Pressley. Currently on the Minnesota Vikings’ roster, Pressley returned a kickoff for a touchdown and had another receiving in a win Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams.