There are college programs in certain sports that are considered rebuilding jobs - constant rebuilding jobs. It’s not that these colleges are simply losers; in other sports, they might even dominate. Coaches (either assistants, head coaches at lesser levels who want to move up, or those who’ve lost their jobs) can tell you the teams in rebuilding modes. They’re were they are trying to get hired. Some schools are fine institutions but have close to zero tradition in a certain sport - or maybe a couple sports). Just a few examples would be: in basketball - Arizona State, Penn State, Rice, Toledo; in football - Kentucky, Duke, Minnesota, New Mexico after watching them play today, I decided to examine the New Mexico Lobos.
The Fresno State-New Mexico game was a perfect example of a derailing of a rebuilding project - because it began so great for the underdog. The Bulldogs are, themselves, playing under first year coach Tim DeRuyter and are experiencing a rebirth from last season. Former coach Pat Hill, except for last season, had a successful run after he replaced legendary coach Jim Sweeney whose program had slipped during his last couple seasons.
The down years in Fresno would look like championship performances if exchanged for many of the seasons in Albuquerque. Although coach Rocky Long took the Lobos to five bowls in seven years, going to a bowl game only puts your club in the top 55-60% of all the FBS schools (is that what the big guys are still called?) Also consider this is a program who, in 2010 lost to Oregon 72-0. Tradition is in short order at UNM, especially when compared with the Lobos’ basketball history.
They now have Bob Davie, former coach at Notre Dame, heading up the program and his guys have been competing - to the tune of a 3-3 record - which had their fans about ready to carve Davie’s bust into the Sandia Mountains. With Davie attempting to build a (semi-)winner at UNM, due to its horrific tradition, they need every break - and certainly can’t miss golden opportunities when they present themselves.
Well, yesterday started off great and the Lobos jumped out to a 21-0 lead - in the first quarter! This was no fluke; the Lobos were in command of the game. But football is a long game and they still needed to, as football coaches love to say, “make plays.” What happened next was indicative of teams who are close to turning the corner, but just can’t (or, maybe, subconsciously don’t) really want to win.
In order were four plays that sealed New Mexico’s fate. First was a sure touchdown pass the Lobos’ running back (running a wheel route) dropped. His hands were backward (at least according to the coaches who taught me in the late 1960s), i.e. thumbs together instead of pinkies together. Next was a receiver running a slant pattern, wide open, dropping another certain TD. Subsequent to one of these they went for a field goal and the kicker hooked it right, which was followed by a Fresno State touchdown, the drive lasting 1:36.
The next two were as bad because they could have stemmed the tide since the momentum had swung to the Bulldogs’ side of the field. One was a deep pattern in which the Lobo receiver had a couple steps (in announcer’s verbiage, “wide open”) on his defender but the up-until-then accurate QB overthrew his man by at least three yards. The last play was the absolute clincher. It happens to teams like this year’s New Mexico squad and just takes the wind out of their sails. It’s almost like, “We surrender. You were gift wrapping that one for us and we’re going to refuse it.”
Apparently, the Fresno State receiver ran a “go” route when the Bulldogs’ QB thought he was going to stop. Consequently, the corner linebacker for UNM was standing directly in the path of the ball. Ahead of the corner was nothing but green. His eyes must have gotten so big, they got in the way of his hands as he tried to catch the on-the-money-but-to-the-wrong-guy-throw. It hit him in the stomach before he dropped it.
To New Mexico’s credit, it took four plays to bring them down. Some teams fold after just one or two. That bodes well for Davie and his troops. A football renaissance may take place in Albuquerque after all. It’s not an impossible place to win (see San Jose State). Lobos hoops always fields a formidable squad. It’s just that, after the fourth “lost” play, the floodgates opened and Fresno State, with its vast array of skilled people, scored seemingly every time they got the ball. The determination of the ‘Dogs was too much for UNM.
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention the Lobos lost their first and second team QBs to injury? If someone is unsure of the impact that would have, take into account that a passing game most of all depends on timing. Exactly how much timing would you guess the third team guy gets with the first team wideouts? Hint: the answer’s zero.
There are bound to be a heck of a lot of failures ahead for new coach Bob Davie. He just needs to keep in mind the quote by Winston Churchill:
“Success is measured by your ability to maintain enthusiasm between failures.”