The UTSA Roadrunners will be playing in their first bowl game ever against the New Mexico Lobos this Saturday. While UTSA has played against the Lobos twice in the past four years, we decided to reach out to our friends at Mountain West Connection for an update on the Lobos and some key travel advice for the thousands of Roadrunner fans making the trip up to Albuquerque. Thanks to Dan Arbino for filling us in! Be sure to check out their site for more great coverage, including a preview podcast and an opportunity to win tickets to Saturday’s big game. You can also read our update on the Roadrunners at this link.
UDD: UTSA fans are fairly familiar with the New Mexico program following games in 2013 and 2014. How has the program changed under Bob Davie's direction since the last time these two teams met on the field?
MWC: I give Bob Davie a lot of credit. He took over a 1-11 team and in four years turned them into a real contender in the Mountain West. I think that his success comes from the realization that UNM, at this point in time, can’t compete with the top programs in the country strictly because these programs get the top recruits. Therefore, while a lot of the NCAA has moved towards the passing game, Davie’s Lobos are quite the opposite. It’s sort of a “we can’t beat them at their game, so let’s change the rules” type of approach. So the Lobos continue to perfect the triple-option offense. They bring in great running backs like Jhurell Pressley, Teriyon Gipson, and Tyrone Owens. And above all else, they try to hold on to the ball so that the opposing team’s defense becomes so fatigued that it just cannot stop the constant rushing. It has worked well.
In short, I don’t know that a lot has changed. I think the offense has become a lot more precise and I think that the personnel has become a lot more skilled at running it.
UDD: Generally speaking, what has worked well for the Lobos in their wins and what has went wrong in their losses?
MWC: You’ll accuse me of oversimplifying things, but it seems to me that if the Lobos can run the ball, they’ll have a great shot at winning. If they have to throw the ball over fifteen times, Lobo nation could be in for a long game. Despite this simplicity, or perhaps because of it, the Lobos offense is a well-oiled machine. This was clearly the case in games against Louisiana-Monroe and Wyoming. Occasionally, the Lobos’ defense also causes a few turnovers and when that happens, it’s huge for a team that already dominates the time of possession. When the Lobos lose, it is because defenses have figured out how to stop the run which forces New Mexico out of its comfort zone (see the Boise State rout). The fact of the matter is that Lamar Jordan is not a good passer and so when he is asked to throw the ball, all bets are off.
There are moments when Coach Davie tries to mix things up and that causes trouble too. I am a big proponent of starting Jordan and bringing in QB Austin Apodaca off the bench for the occasional series. The reason is that Jordan strikes me as a very stabilizing force for the Lobos and Apodaca comes in and switches things up. UTSA fans should root for Apodaca to start. It’s not a knock on him. I think that he is a good quarterback. But the truth is that the Lobos’ offense tries to do too much when he’s on the field and it often haunts them.
UDD: The explosive trio of Tyrone Owens, Teriyon Gipson, and Lamar Jordan are obvious but what other players on the offensive side of the ball have the talent to put points on the board for the Lobos?
MWC: Those are absolutely three names that UTSA folks should know going into Saturday’s game. However, there is one name you left off the list and in fact, he is leading the Lobos in touchdowns with sixteen: RB Richard McQuarley. It’s true that Gipson and Owens rack up all of the yards for New Mexico, but when they’re inside the 10 yard line, you can expect McQuarley to get the ball and try to punch it in. Davie likes his size and who can blame him? McQuarley is about 30-40 pounds bigger than Gipson and Owens. The other guy you might want to know when UNM has the ball is QB Austin Apodaca. He and Jordan take turns running the offense. Apodaca is the better passer and Jordan the better runner. Davie likes to throw Apodaca out there to give defenses some different looks.
UDD: What are New Mexico's strengths and weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball? I've noticed their alignments are very similar to what UTSA uses on defense.
MWC: New Mexico’s strength lies in its linebackers. Guys like Dakota Cox and Kimmie Carson have been consistently good for UNM all season. You can also throw in there defensive lineman Nik D’Avanzo. When the Lobos’ defense is clicking, it is usually because of these three players. To that end, the Lobos are better at stopping the run than the pass. This season they gave up 166 rushing yards per game, good for 60th in the nation (approximately 10 spots behind UTSA). They’re not world beaters by any means, but the rushing defense can hold its own. I wish I could say the same for the pass, which leads us to the cherry-and-silver’s weaknesses. They’re 71st in the nation, giving up 231 yards per game. They don’t intercept the ball a lot (just seven on the season), and their secondary struggles with tall receivers.
UDD: Do you get the sense that New Mexico fans and players are disappointed to be staying at home for their second consecutive bowl game or do they embrace the opportunity to enjoy a home field advantage in a bowl game?
MWC: Like you said, the New Mexico Bowl is a wonderful opportunity for the Lobos because they can enjoy all the comforts of home: from sleeping in their own beds to practicing on their field and even playing in front of home crowd. There is a familiarity here that will naturally benefit them in this game. Throw in the fact that New Mexico spent many years not going to a bowl game and you have a feel-good situation. Still, and I’m only speaking for myself here, I believe that UNM needs to start playing in other bowl games to gain more recognition as a legitimate up-and-coming program. Playing at the New Mexico Bowl is really nice, but it also smells a bit like nepotism. For them to take the next step in their football program, they should pursue bowl games elsewhere (assuming that they’ll be eligible). It is the next step in targeting good recruits and building a reputation.
UDD: Any travel tips for UTSA fans making the trip to Albuquerque?Any travel tips for UTSA fans making the trip to Albuquerque?
MWC: I can’t stress this enough: dress in layers! The weather will change drastically throughout the day (possibly even during the game) and it’s not uncommon to see a person in a winter coat in the morning and a light jacket by mid-afternoon. If you’re looking for food and beer, Albuquerque has a lot of breweries. Some of my favorites (and I invite others to chime in), include Kelly’s and B2B Bistro on Route 66 in the Nob Hill Neighborhood as well as Chama River Brewing Co. off of I-25. The burgers at these places are top notch. You’d be remiss if you didn’t get a breakfast burrito and sweet roll at Frontier on Route 66/Central Ave. across the street from UNM’s main campus. Finally, if you’re looking for some good old fashion New Mexican food (which is quite different from Tex-Mex), you should check out Sadie’s, Los Cuates, or Barelas Coffee House. There are a lot of other choices, but those three have kept me coming back for years. You’ll get hearty meals at all of those places.
If you’ve got some extra time and you are a fan of Breaking Bad, I recommend the Breaking Bad RV tour or bike tour. Both leave from Old Town.
UDD: And lastly, how do you see this game playing out?
MWC: I’ll try to be impartial here. Last year New Mexico had home field advantage in the New Mexico Bowl and all it got them was a 37-45 loss to Arizona. My point here is that just because they are at home does not mean that victory is a foregone conclusion. UTSA will have a lot to prove and they’ll play with a chip on their shoulder. In fact, I’m sure they’d love nothing more than to make their very first bowl game a win. With that being said and in spite of UTSA’s respectable run defense, they haven’t seen anything like the Lobos’ run game this season. I expect the Lobos to ride Gipson and Owens until their wheels fall off and they would be foolish not to. I have the Lobos winning this one 34-24.