During Wednesday’s media-day event at the Tow Diehm Complex, a reporter asked New Mexico football coach Bob Davie if quarterback Cole Gautsche will be a starter heading into training camp.
Davie, standing at the podium, turned to his sophomore signal-caller seated off-camera and said “Cole? You going to jump out there with that first group?”
That’s the plan, Davie said.
“Cole is definitely the starting quarterback,” the coach said. “What he did last year, and you guys all saw I have tremendous respect for him and how he handled himself. He’s the starter.”
The Lobos held their first practice of the season Thursday after reporting back to UNM on Wednesday. Cole is one of five quarterbacks on the roster.
The Lobos held their first practice of the season Thursday after reporting back to UNM on Wednesday. He is one of five quarterbacks on the roster, so he will face some competition for that starting job from junior transfer Clayton Mitchem, returning junior Quinton McCown, junior David Vega and two incoming freshmen from Texas – Caleb Kimbro and Lamar Jordan.
That competition isn’t anything to fear, Gautsche said, because it makes each player better in the long run. Plus, the players all bounce ideas and questions off each other during film sessions, which shows how much they work to assist their teammates, he said.
“It’s great having competition because it makes us all better,” he said. “The more competition we have, the better everybody gets, so we’re always in good spirits when we’re in competition. It’s not that we hate each other or anything like that, but competition is competition.”
A year ago, UNM had limited options at quarterback. Senior B.R. Holbrook found some early success but was sidelined Oct. 27 to a shoulder injury. That left Gautsche, a Cleveland High School product and Davie’s first UNM recruit, as the Lobos’ primary quarterback. He started the final four games.
Davie relied more on Gautsche’s running ability than his arm. Playing in 11 games, he rushed for 760 yards, averaged 7 yards per carry and 61.1 per game, and scored seven touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, however, Gautsche was 13 of his 31 attempts and scored two passing touchdowns.
Some criticized Gautsche’s reliance on running the ball and his seeming inability to find receivers. He said he feeds off that criticism.
“Everybody’s going to have their opinions and those criticisms just make me want to do better and play harder and fix that problem because I know I can do it,” he said.
Davie said Gautsche has improved his passing skills during the spring practice sessions, and Gautsche said he’s been working as much with his receivers as he can since then. He said the mechanics of his passing motion are where they need to be, but now he wants to work on the mental component, Gautsche said.
That won’t be fully tested until UNM lines up against a real opponent, Davie said.
“Doing it in practice is one thing. Doing it in a game’s another,” he said. “But it’s exciting that we’ve got 30 days or so that if he can continue to develop from where he ended up in the spring, I’m excited to watch. No question he has the ability to throw it. There’s no question about that. I’m anxious to see.”
Gautsche said the team has a solid wide receiving corps comprising guys like sophomores Marquis Bundy, Carlos Wiggins, junior Jeric Magnant returning. In 2012 Wiggins had nine catches for 83 yards and Magnant had three catches for 23 yards, but Bundy did not have a catch.
Gautsche said his completing more passes will lighten the load for senior running back Kasey Carrier, who ran for 1,498 yards a year ago, sophomore Jhurell Pressley, senior Demarcus Rogers and junior Crusoe Gongbay.
Having more balance will be instrumental to the team’s success this season, Davie said, meaning the team must pass more. With 3,917 rushing yards, the run game accounted for 81.4 percent of the team’s offensive yard production last year.
There’s also the crucial leadership role a quarterback must fill. Gautsche admitted it was hard as a freshman to get on a senior teammate’s case following a miscue, but he said he must be more assertive in that regard. Offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse, who coaches the quarterbacks, said he’s already seen a higher confidence level from Gautsche since last season.
“I think he’s worked at that. He’s worked at being a leader,” DeBesse said. “I’ve seen him more as a take-charge guy. For him to be confident, obviously that’s going to be based on any success he has or builds on any success he’s had. It’s also him getting to be big-picture oriented as a quarterback instead of being so narrowly focused.”
Gautsche said he’s constantly striving to get better in every aspect of the game – throwing, leadership, confidence, developing rapport with receivers, play-calling, field vision, and general knowledge of the quarterback position of UNM’s system. He said he’s on the right path.
“My high school coach, coach (Heath) Ridenour, always calls me up and says ‘You did it in high school. You can do it still,’ and all that stuff,” Gautsche said. “I just have to have that confidence and get to know the playbook and keep my nose in it all the time so I just know it in and out.”