Coaches often preach “Hold on to the football,” and for good reason. Turnovers are costly.
That old adage proved true during Saturday night’s MWC opener between UNM and No. 24 Boise State at University Stadium. The Lobos lost three fumbles and the Broncos lost two in a game that ended 32-29 in the Broncos’ favor. All five turnovers led to scores on ensuing possessions.
UNM fell behind 25-0 in the first half, primarily due to its three fumbles, which Boise State used to its advantage. Let’s break those down:
—UNM quarterback Cole Gautsche rushed for 1 yard on the Lobos’ first possession. Boise State’s nose tackle Mike Atkinson forced a fumble recovered by defensive end Samuel Ukwuachu.
Boise State then drove 51 yards in 13 plays and scored on a 28-yard field goal.
—Atkinson forced another fumble in the second quarter, this time on UNM junior running back Kasey Carrier. Boise State’s defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe recovered at the UNM 43-yard line.
Five plays and 43 yards later, Broncos quarterback Joe Southwick found wide receiver Matt Miller for a touchdown strike. Boise added a two-point conversion to take an 18-0 lead.
—Carrier fumbled a second time on UNM’s next drive, forced by Boise State’s defensive end Demarcus Lawrence and recovered by Ukwuachu at the Boise State 19. That turnover ended a 13-yard drive by the Lobos.
The Broncos needed just three plays to cover 81 yards after the fumble recovery; Boise State’s Jay Ajayi had a 71-yard run immediately after the recovery.
“We came out in the first half flat,” UNM senior linebacker Joe Stoner said. “We shot ourselves in the foot and Boise State executed, but we shot ourselves in the foot in the first half.”
The fumbles shifted the momentum to Boise State’s favor and put an end to some decent UNM drives. That’s the funny thing about momentum — it can move in the other direction.
The Lobos made key adjustments in the second half, primarily running over and around the Broncos via Gautsche and the triple option. UNM outscored Boise State 29-7 in the second half, attempting a comeback but falling short by three points.
The Lobo special teams and defense units deserve a lot of credit for the comeback, not just for keeping Boise State out of the end zone. Two fumble recoveries by UNM spurred the second-half charge.
UNM didn’t need much time to shift the second half’s momentum.
Boise State received the kickoff coming out of the locker room, but Lobo wide receiver Jeric Magnant caused Broncos kick returner Mitch Burroughs to fumble. Lobo linebacker Dallas Bollema recovered the ball deep in Broncos territory. UNM rushed its way to the end zone from 26 yards out, capped by a score from running back Jhurell Pressley.
Later, with Boise State leading 32-21, a UNM second fumble recovery kept the comeback attempt alive.
Three plays into a Bronco drive, Lobo linebacker A.J. Butler forced Boise State’s wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes to lose the ball at the Boise State 48. Stoner picked up the ball and returned it 47 yards to the Bronco 1.
A Gautsche run and 2-point conversion cut the Boise State advantage to three points.
“It was a tale of two halves,” head coach Bob Davie said. “It comes back to turnovers to us.”
The comeback came up short. Boise State held UNM to four-and-out on the final Lobo drive and departed Albuquerque with its first MWC win of the season.
After the 45-0 loss to Texas in Week 2, Davie talked about the “little wins” the coaching staff recognized. They should be able to find those again after the Lobos’ performance against Boise State.
Saturday’s game was a game of two halves. The first half’s issues proved UNM still has a ways to go to get where it wants to be, but the second half illustrated that the program is headed in the right direction.