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Lobos Host Utah State on Black Friday

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One last shot for the 2021 season awaits the New Mexico Lobos as UNM will host Utah State on Friday, and UNM is going to try to make it a Black Friday indeed.  UNM will look to spoil Utah State’s chances at a Mountain Division title and a berth in the league championship game as the Lobos host the Aggies on Friday at 11:05 a.m. at University Stadium.  The game will be broadcast on the Lobo Radio Network with Robert Portnoy, and on FS1 as well with Guy Haberman and Will Blackmon.

The Lobos are entering the game with injury issues seemingly everywhere, particularly at quarterback, where Isaiah Chavez left the last game in the second quarter, turning the reins over to Connor Genal and Bryson Carroll.  Carroll, who was a graduate manager sitting in meetings and aiding the coaching staff two weeks ago, would be UNM’s fourth different starting quarterback if Chavez is unable to go.  Carroll played quarterback for two plays in 2017 when UNM was without Lamar Jordan and Tevaka Tuioti and Coltin Gerhart got hurt in the final minute of the first half.  He ran for 10 yards and then UNM punted, and when UNM got the ball back, he took a knee for the second and final play of what became his freshman season.

Carroll then moved to running back and played in the final two games of the season, utilizng that 2018 season as a redshirt.  In 2019, he was second on the team in rushing with 536 yards, including a 193-yard effort against Colorado State.  In 2020, he played six games rushing for 115 yards, with a season-best 62 against Utah State.  However, bone spurs in his foot basically shelved him for 2021, pushing him to graduate manager status, although he stayed on scholarship.

Regardless of who is quarterback, they will be handing the ball off to potentially an injured Bobby Cole, who left the BSU game in the second quarter, or an injured Aaron Dumas, who is doubtful.  UNM has other injuries, including guard Isaak Gutierrez, who will miss the game, who had started 16 of 18 games in his career.

 

 

Where UNM isn’t quite so banged up is on defense, a unit that stymied Boise State for much of the night on Saturday, despite BSU scoring 37 points.  The defense allowed just two touchdowns and three field goals, with two of those on short fields.  What did UNM in was allowing a pair of blocked punts to go for touchdowns, including one of the opening drive of the game.

UNM’s defense will be tasked with stopping a top-20 offense that is averaging 457.5 yards per game and is scoring 31.3 points per game.  At the forefront of that is Biletnikoff semifinals Deven Thompkins, who leads the nation in receiving yards per game at 137.1 and in all-purpose yardage at 160.6.  His 18.4 yards per catch is second nationally and his 7.5 catches per game is third.  While UNM has seen a host of good offenses and great receivers, Thompkins might be on a different level altogether, and UNM will need to keep him bottled up.

If Thompkins was the only guy playing offense, that would be one thing, but USU has a host of weapons, and it starts before the offense gets on the field. Savon Scarver is back returning kickoffs, and in 102 career returns, he has seven touchdowns, including at least one in each of the last five years. Calvin Tyler Jr. and Elelyon Noa are an effective 1-2 punch at running back with 686 and 517 yards apiece, and Logan Bonner is just 70 yards from 3,000.

The Aggies are a handful and playing for all the marbles.  Utah State is locked in a three-way tie at 5-2 with Air Force and Boise State, and oddly no one controls its own destiny.  Utah State would advance to the title game with a win and a Boise State loss to San Diego State, with the Air Force game not factoring in.  Boise State would advance if it wins over San Diego State with Air Force losing to UNLV, with the Utah State/UNM game inconsequential.  Air Force gets in if all three teams win, or with a win and a Lobo win over Utah State.  If all three lose, it would be Air Force advancing.

UNM in turn is looking to play spoiler and head into the offseason on a high note.  Regardless, UNM’s three victories is one more than last year, and on more than in Bob Davie’s final season in 2019.