New Mexico football has an opportunity to earn bowl eligibility for the second year in a row as it hosts Nevada at University Stadium on Saturday night.
The Lobos (5-3, 3-1 MW) hope to avenge a 35-17 loss that the Wolfpack (3-5, 1-3 MW) dealt them last season, one that head coach Bob Davie said is still etched in his memory.
The team is riding a three-game winning streak after outlasting Hawai’i 28-21 on Saturday, but the head coach said he isn’t even considering looking at the scope and impact of what four in a row could mean for the program.
“What happened last year in Reno, Nevada was personal — they whipped us,” Davie said. “Nothing matters other than playing this game this week.”
Last season, Nevada gashed the New Mexico defense for 351 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The Lobos allowed two 100-yard rushes, allowing nearly seven yards per carry by the tandem.
Nevada quarterback Tyler Stewart connected on 16 of 19 passes and added a pair of touchdowns through the air too.
Davie said Nevada has a different front seven, but otherwise most of the team is back. He said the Wolfpack are pretty impressive, especially the way they rush the passer.
Some of that advantage might be neutralized by the fact that Nevada won’t know for sure which New Mexico quarterback to prepare for.
New Mexico quarterback Lamar Jordan played the first half against Hawai’i, while Austin Apodaca came on in relief for the second half. Davie said in Tuesday’s media luncheon that he wasn’t sure which one would be starting on Saturday.
The Lobo defense has stepped up in recent weeks, putting up a scoring touchdown in back-to-back weeks.
Prior to Hawai’i’s game, safety Daniel Henry said the cornerbacks and safeties have a friendly competition about who is going to make plays. Cornerback Jadon Boatright had an interception return for touchdown versus Louisiana-Monroe the previous week, and Henry said the safeties wanted to respond.
Henry caused a fumble and safety Lee Crosby scooped up the ball and ran it in for a 46 yard fumble return for touchdown.
However, Crosby also did a flip as he entered the end zone, drawing a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The play could have turned Crosby from the hero to the villain.
But the Lobo defense made a red zone stand to force a turnover on downs that essentially ended the game. Davie said he loves Crosby’s enthusiasm, but that he has to be better in these situations.
“You’ve heard me use the term ‘E plus R equals O,’” Davie said. “You know the event (E) happens — there’s going to be an outcome (O) — your response (R) is the thing you control.”
Davie said he and several other coaches approached Crosby after the incident. He said the safety has done some things that he later realized put the team in a vulnerable situation, but hopes he can learn from it.
Crosby is part of a defense that appears to be playing much better lately, allowing just four touchdowns over the past two games, though Hawai’i also scored off a fake field goal on special teams.
Crosby said his first visit to Hawaii was amazing, adding that the food, beautiful water and hotel on the beach all felt like something out of a movie. He said the team fell in love with the pineapples, his favorite fruit.
New Mexico’s win last week, coupled with Boise State’s 30-28 loss, put the Lobos back in contention for the top spot in the division. Crosby said the team isn’t looking ahead, but is aware of the team’s situation — and the goal of winning a Mountain West championship is very much alive.
“We thank Wyoming for beating Boise State and putting us back in the hunt,” Crosby said. “We are just going to take it one game at a time and see how it plays out at the end.”
Davie seemed to echo that sentiment. With the exception of Boise State, the team has had an opportunity to win every contest and has been executing in the latter stages to find ways to win close games.
“I’m optimistic that we can play our best defensive football down the stretch,” Davie said. “We continue to improve. I still think we have our best ahead of us, and not everyone in the country can say that.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. A limited number of fans will receive Lobo dog tags in this week’s fan giveaway promotion.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler.