New Mexico Wins New Mexico Bowl; Survives UTSA Comeback
The New Mexico Lobos did just enough to win the 2016 Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday. The Lobos survived a UTSA comeback attempt to claim their second bowl in the last 54 years. The 117-year old top division program now has four total bowl wins.
The Roadrunners, in only their sixth year of existence, were playing in their first every bowl game.
It was the first game of the FBS Bowl Season. And while it was overshadowed on the day by Donnel Pumphrey‘s record-breaking effort, San Diego State’s defeat of Houston, and Southern Miss’ record-breaking effort in the New Orleans Bowl, it served as an appropriate start to post-season.
New Mexico entered the game as the nation’s top-ranked rushing offense. Bob Davie’s unique triple option, pistol-wishbone attack accounted for over 350 yards per game during the regular season. The Lobos featured a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Teriyon Gipson and Tyrone Owens. Quarterback Lamar Jordan added 658 yards of rushing offense as well.
But given almost a month to prepare, Frank Wilson’s Roadrunner defense was well prepared. The weather conditions helped UTSA’s defensive efforts. Blustery winds, up to 40-mph at times, made an already run-heavy New Mexico attack almost completely one dimensional. The Lobos only attempted six passes all day. This allowed UTSA to routinely add defenders to the front line of the defense and play their secondary closer to the edges than normal.
New Mexico’s normally dominate running attack was simply average on Saturday. They converted less than 50% on third downs — although they were two-for-three on fourth downs — and split the time of possession virtually evenly with UTSA (30:42 to 29:18). New Mexico had 219 yards on the ground, over 140 yards below their season average. They added only 77 yards on three completions through the air. Jason Sanders’ 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half, into the wind, was a key boost to an otherwise stagnant Lobos effort.
Josiah Tauaefa led the Roadrunner defensive effort from his linebacker position. Tauaefa, just a freshman, had 11 total tackles, one sack, and 1.5 tackles-for-loss. It was a total defensive effort, though, with seven UTSA players recording four or more tackles and 17 players recording at least one tackle. In the end, they couldn’t quite stay with the Lobos, giving up two drives of 10+ plays and 75 yards in the second half, including the game-winning touchdown drive on New Mexico’s penultimate possession.
Out of Rhythm
As well as UTSA’s defense played, their offense couldn’t quite match the effort. Wilson’s staff knew that the key to victory would be sustaining drives and capitalizing on opportunities. While UTSA didn’t have the same running prowess as the Lobos offense, they were the more balanced of the two teams coming into the game. The wind clearly affected the Roadrunner passing attack. Quarterback Dalton Sturm went 10-for-26 (38%) for 118 yards. He did have two touchdown passes, but also added a critical interception late in the third quarter.
UTSA’s rushing attack actually out-gained New Mexico’s by gaining 246 yards. Roadrunner running back Jarveon Williams had 125 yards on 16 carries for the day. Sturm’s athleticism was evident on several tough runs to avoid negative yardage. The Lobos defense was almost as good as the Roadrunner defense, constantly harassing Sturm in the pocket and limiting his improvised runs.
But the Roadrunners just couldn’t find a consistent rhythm throughout the day. UTSA scored 14 of their 20 points on their last two drives. The Roadrunners had a chance at the end, recovering an on-side kick. However, they were clearly off-sides and New Mexico recovered the second attempt.
The Roadrunners are left wondering what could have been. The odds were stacked against them to begin with. This was a home game for New Mexico and the Lobos were Division Champions. Add in the weather, and UTSA was playing from behind from before the opening kick-off. But there they were, at the end, with a chance to win the game. It’s Frank Wilson’s first season and he already has a top-rated Conference USA recruiting class lined up for signing day. This will serve as a measuring point for the next year’s Roadrunner team. They know they can compete with Power 5 teams and top-tier Group of 5 teams. Now they need to focus on consistency.
A more consistent 2017 will see UTSA somewhere other than New Mexico in late December.