Lobos football team hopes to avoid letdown against Louisiana-Monroe
ALBUQUERQUE — Trap game?
Bob Davie is having none of that.
His University of New Mexico football team takes a final step outside Mountain West Conference play Saturday when it hosts Sun Belt also-ran Louisiana-Monroe at University Stadium. It’s a game the Lobos, suddenly back in the discussion for a second straight bowl berth after an upset of Air Force last week, are expected to win handily.
Just don’t broach the subject of UNM potentially overlooking the Warhawks before departing for paradise and next week’s game at MWC upstart Hawaii. Davie said there’s no such thing as any Lobos team taking anyone lightly.
“I guess it is worth talking about,” Davie said after referencing a handful of other teams getting knocked off in games such as this. “But I’m more interested in us, in what we have kind of been through and where we have a chance to go to now.”
Where the Lobos can go is one step closer to bowl eligibility. A win would improve their record to 4-3 and leave them two victories short of bowl eligibility heading into the final five games of the regular season. Four of those opponents are below .500.
Davie did get an unexpected boost during the Air Force game as freshman defensive back Elijah Lilly, playing just his second game after coming off redshirt status as a true freshman, was named the MWC special teams player of the week for sparking UNM with several big returns on kickoffs.
Exactly where Lilly fits in is still a work in progress, but it’s one Davie doesn’t have much time to tinker with. Injuries to two starters in the Lobo secondary have pressed Lilly into double duty as both a returner and defensive back.
“We’re so short at corner that we can’t do much with Elijah Lilly other than get him ready to be the next corner in the game,” Davie said.
In other words, the focal point for the coaching staff is Lilly’s ability to defend, not his electrifying returns that make him a threat to do something big every time he touches the ball.
“Down the road, without a doubt, he has to touch that football in some packages on the offense because I think he’s going to prove to be a guy that isn’t kind of a one-hit wonder,” Davie said.
This weekend marks the return of the quarterback tandem the Lobos have used much of the last two seasons as senior Austin Apodaca appears near 100 percent after a recent collarbone injury sidelined him for three weeks. Both he and Lamar Jordan will get time in the backfield, meaning it’s not likely that sophomore JaJuan Lawson will get much playing time.
No matter who’s taking snaps, Davie said, the ULM pass defense has to respect the Lobos’ ability to throw it. Apodaca brings that element, although he struggled in his brief appearances against Air Force.
“You do need to have to keep people off balance in your own way,” Davie said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean throwing the ball if you really want to throw it because you’ve got to get the ball out on the perimeter and do some things.”
The Lobos also have to avoid the letdown that comes so frequently after big wins like last week’s. If they can sustain the momentum, Davie said, there’s every reason to believe that this year could end up like the last; with a run into a postseason bowl bid.
“People ask those questions for a reason because a lot of times that ends up happening,” he said of the concerns of falling flat against ULM.
Bowl eligibility: Undefeated Boise State (7-0) is the only MWC team to have reached the requisite six wins for bowl eligibility. San Diego State (5-1) can join the Broncos with a win Saturday against San Jose State.
Two other teams, Wyoming and Air Force, have four wins.
The MWC has six tie-ins to postseason games, including the New Mexico Bowl.
Early riser: Lobos running back Teriyon Gipson is averaging 13 yards per carry this season, tops in the country. He has done most of his damage in the first quarter, rushing for 394 yards — on just 11 carries. His average carry covers a remarkable 35.8 yards in the opening quarter.
Saturday: Louisiana-Monroe (2-4 overall, 1-2 Sun Belt) at New Mexico (3-3, 2-1 Mountain West), 7:08 p.m.
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: KVSF-AM 1400 and KKOB-AM 770
Live stats: www.statbroadcast.com