There will be no postseason for Lobo football this season, but the University of New Mexico can still play the role of spoiler and deny UNLV an opportunity to become bowl eligible.
New Mexico (3-7, 1-5 MW) has had a rough go of things over the last month or so, going winless in its last five games. The team has played especially poor on the road, but Saturday the Lobo will host the Rebels in the friendly confines of Dreamstyle Stadium.
The Lobos have fared better at home, where the team has gone 2-3 so far this season. Two of those losses came by a combined five points, but UNM looked lost during its last game at home, a 24-10 loss to Utah State on Nov. 4.
UNLV (4-6, 3-3 MW) still has its hopes set on earning a chance to play in a bowl game, but must win its final two games to do so. The Rebels end the season on the road against in-state rival Nevada, but cannot afford to overlook the Lobos on the way.
The Rebels vaulted themselves back into postseason consideration with back-to-back wins on the road over Fresno State and at home over Hawaii, but stumbled last week against BYU — falling 31-21.
Lamar Jordan scores the Lobo’s touchdown during the fourth quarter of UNM’s home game against the University of Nevada Las Vegas Rebels on Nov. 17, 2017. The Lobos lost the game in the last quarter 38-35.
In New Mexico's last game, the team got smacked 55-14 — falling to Texas A&M on the road. With a road season finale against San Diego State looming, UNLV could be the best opportunity to salvage a victory.
The offense has been woeful, struggling to score points and run the ball, despite leading the nation in team rushing last season. UNM running back Tyrone Owens found the end zone against the Aggies last week in the third quarter, but it was the first time a running back scored a touchdown for the Lobos since Oct. 20.
New Mexico did a better job limiting turnovers against the Aggies, giving the ball away just twice in the game. But UNM did have what appeared to be a touchdown return wiped away because the return man touched his knee to the ground during the run back. Elijah Lilly did respond with a 100-yard kickoff return later in the game to extend the team's consecutive season streak to eight.
Turnovers have been one of many Achilles' heels for the Lobos this season — something head coach Bob Davie has harped on for the past several weeks as an insurmountable obstacle to winning football games unless the team can find a way to correct the mistakes.
Rushing the ball has been a rough go for the Lobos this season, averaging just 231.7 yards per game — well over 100 yards less than last year's pace of 350 yards per contest.
Injuries have played a big role in the reduced production, but the team also seems to be missing big play ability and a player that seemed to have an extra gear, like Teriyon Gipson or Jhurell Pressley in year's past.
If the Lobos want to have a shot at ending the five-game skid, exercising ball security and converting third-downs are probably the areas that could help the most.
On the season, New Mexico has converted less than 30 percent of its third down chances and have been awful finishing drives in the red zone. UNM has only scored touchdowns on half of its 24 red zone attempts and come away with no points on eight of those trips.
Conversely, the Lobos have surrendered 24 touchdowns on its opponents 30 red zone chances. UNLV has scored as many touchdowns inside the 20-yard line (24) as UNM has had attempts all year.
It would be nice for senior quarterback Lamar Jordan to have a big night, since it is "senior night" and the last opportunity the fifth-year senior will have to play in front of a home crowd.
Davie has described Jordan as an integral piece that was there "since day one" to help build something special at UNM. Prior to this season, he helped engineer the best two-year stretch in program history — guiding the team to seven and nine wins, respectively and consecutive bowl appearances.
That won't be the case this season, but he may be able to string together one last big performance on his home turf Saturday. Kickoff will take place at 7:30 p.m. with the game set to be broadcast on ESPN2 and will also be carried on the Lobo Radio Network.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.