July 23—Editor’s Note: This is the first in a 12-part series featuring Mountain West football teams based on their predicted finishing order in the pre-season media poll.
LAS VEGAS — Construction has been slow for Danny Gonzales entering his third season in New Mexico.
The Lobos — who were chosen to finish last in the six-team Mountain Division in the preseason media poll — have won just three Mountain West games in the past two seasons.
Two of the wins came at the expense of Wyoming.
The Cowboys make the trip to Albuquerque on Oct. 8 after losing the 2020 game 17-16 in Las Vegas and last year’s Homecoming game 14-3 in Laramie.
“I don’t know if we have their number,” Gonzales said Wednesday during MW media day at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. “Coach (Craig) Bohl does a great job and we share a lot of the same philosophies about playing harder longer, being tougher and all those things.
“So these matchups come into that kind of football. The last two years, 17-16 and 14-3, have been great defensive football games.”
New Mexico expects to be strong on the defensive end of the ball in 2022 with Rocky Long entering his third season as Gonzales’ coordinator after winning three MW championships as San State head coach. Diego.
The Lobos return seven starters on defense after ranking 44th in total yards allowed in 2021. That was despite little help from an offense that finished dead last among the 130 FBS teams in scoring (12 .2 points per game) and in yards (234.2).
“Utah State was picked last and they won the conference championship,” safety Jerrick Reed said of low outside expectations for New Mexico as the Aggies players conducted their interview session through the piece wearing championship rings. “Just ask us the same question in November and we’ll have your answer.”
Reed led the team with 89 tackles and seven breakups and teammate Tavian Combs added 81 tackles and four breakups last season in Long’s unique 3-3-5 scheme. Gonzales thinks the Lobos have the best linebacking group in MW with all three starters.
The key to the season will be finding an effective and successful quarterback and improving along the offensive line.
Four quarterback candidates, led by returner Isaiah Chavez and Kansas transfer Miles Kendrick, will face off throughout fall camp and likely beyond.
Chavez passed 17 of 24 for 161 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in limited action last season. The second in redshirt is 2-0 in starts against UW.
Kendrick has Big 12 experience having completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 853 with nine touchdowns and six interceptions with the Jayhawks.
“I don’t think it’s likely to end until Week 2 because it all depends on what you can do in the game,” Reed said of the QB competition. “Anybody can go practice and remember their games and know what defense is all about and execute it. It’s live action, Saturday night what are you going to do when the lights will be lit?”
The Lobos will need to be ready for the bright lights of September. After starting out with FCS Maine, Mountain Division preseason favorite Boise State heads to Albuquerque for a Friday night game Sept. 9.
New Mexico also plays a buyout game Sept. 24 at LSU and draws West Division favorites Fresno State and San Diego State in conference crossover games.
“Being picked last is fine. We’ll see what happens in November,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t have as much confidence last year because I knew you had to have enough talent. You don’t have to have the most but you have to have enough. Last year, we didn’t have enough attacking talent up front. I think everything will be fine this year.”
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn
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