It’s been 335 days since the University of New Mexico football team last took the field, and a lot has changed since their last game.
The most noteworthy change that occurred during the offseason was the departure of former head coach Bob Davie, who was later replaced by Danny Gonzales, a defensive coordinator for Arizona State and former UNM football player.
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic initially canceled the 2020-21 Mountain West football season and delayed the start of the Gonzales era.
The first game in the Lobo’s truncated season, meant to be played on the road against Colorado State on Oct. 24, was canceled due to the surging coronavirus case count in Bernalillo County.
Then, UNM’s home opener was moved from Albuquerque to San Jose. With this change in venue, the season began unexpectedly on the road against San José State, and the Gonzales era began with a thud after the Spartans trounced the Lobos 38-21.
The game was a continuation of the Lobos’ losing streak, which is now up to 10 out of conference games and 16 games within the Mountain West. UNM’s last victory was over a year ago in a home game against New Mexico State on Sept. 21.
UNM received the first half kickoff and had a strong start, with an 11 play, 43-yard drive, that gave the Lobos the opportunity for a field goal attempt and an early lead.
However, Lobo kicker George Steinkamp missed the field goal wide to the right, which gave San José the ball at their 36-yard line.
San José would then go on a 40-yard drive of their own that eventually stalled after UNM defensive end Jake Saltonstall stopped running back Kairee Robinson on a fourth and one play.
Despite these good fortunes, UNM couldn’t capitalize on the change in momentum, and after a 5-play drive, the Lobos had to punt the ball back.
This would not bode well for the Lobos, as San José marched down the field on a 14-play, 84-yard drive that culminated with Spartans quarterback Nick Starkel throwing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Tre Walker.
Down 7-0 to the Spartans, UNM looked to respond but had to punt after only managing another 5 -play drive. This gave San José State another chance to add to their lead.
The Spartans didn’t waste the opportunity, as they went on another lengthy drive, consisting of 8 plays and spanning 84 yards. The drive came to an end with Starkel throwing another touchdown, this one for 43 yards to Isaiah Hamilton.
Down 14-0, UNM would need a shot in the arm to get back into the game.
The shot they were looking for came in the form of a 4-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that only took 59 seconds. Lobo quarterback Tevaka Tuioti hit on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Cedric Patterson III. In less than a minute, UNM cut the deficit in half.
San José State immediately responded with a scoring drive of their own. Starkel found Walker in the end zone for the second time in the half to extend the lead to 21-7.
The shootout was on, as the Lobos embarked on a 75-yard drive, capped off by a Tuioti touchdown pass to Andrew Erickson to make it 21-14 with 2:06 left in the first half. This score would hold into halftime.
At the half, UNM still trailed by seven.
That would remain the case until 10:55 in the third quarter, when UNM tied the game on a 1-yard Tuioti touchdown run.
With the momentum on the Lobos’ side, it seemed as if UNM could end up winning their season opener after all the hoops they had to jump through.
But the spark the team captured in the first half quickly fizzled out, and San José State took control of the game.
Three of the next four Spartan drives resulted in scores, as Starkel continued to light up the Lobo defense, tossing a 69-yard touchdown pass to Bailey Gaither.
In contrast, the Lobos went scoreless on their next four possessions.
With the score 38-21 in favor of San José State, the Spartans would run the ball the rest of the way and drop UNM to 0-1 on the young season.
While Tuioti threw for 294 yards, the story was once again UNM’s porous defense, which gave up 467 passing yards and 5 passing touchdowns.
In the post-game press conference, Gonzales said UNM “looked horrible” and were “not very good,” stating that his players and coaching staff had a “long way to go.”
Despite the Lobos’ stumble out of the gate, Gonzales remained optimistic, citing the team’s strong effort on the field.
“The offense fought hard, “ Gonzales said. “The good thing is (the team) didn’t quit.”
Gonzales also noted that the Lobos were a little sloppy, especially when it came to the amount of penalties the team allowed.
“I thought that the kids were fighting, and fighting hard — I thought that it was a great game for three and a half quarters,” Gonzales said. “There's no excuses, we should have played better, but we have a long way to go to continue to set the culture that we want.”
UNM’s next game is against Hawai on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 9 p.m.
Spencer Butler is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SpencerButler48