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Rhashaun Epting

New Mexico linebacker Rhashaun Epting surveys the field during a Lobos game earlier this season in Albuquerque, N.M.

Matt Narvaiz covers New Mexico for The Daily Lobo in Albuquerque. We caught up with him to talk about the Lobos ahead of Saturday’s game.

Davis Potter: What have been New Mexico’s biggest issues the last two seasons?

Matt Narvaiz: New Mexico has had many issues in the last two seasons, ranging from offensive production all the way to coaching. But the biggest and most glaring issue for the Lobos has been their defense. So far this season, UNM has managed to give up 203.5 yards per game on the ground. That’s due to a multitude of factors, including not having Alex Hart, a linebacker and the Lobos’ third-leading tackler a season ago, since Sept. 15. The Lobos have also been without linebacker Evahelotu Tohi for the last three weeks after he was suspended for an altercation with a teammate. But the pass defense for New Mexico is even worse, ranking last in the conference in passing yards given up per game at 275.5. In the end, though, the defensive struggles are a product of not being in the right places at the right time — and that, in the end, goes back to coaching.

DP: What’s the chatter around Albuquerque been like concerning Bob Davie’s future?

MN: Albuquerque has always been a basketball town first, football second. But the last two seasons have been a hellfire for Bob Davie and the program at large. Davie has been under investigation in the last year, the team has failed to break even, and other sports around the athletics department have been cut — and all of those have contributed to a festering spite for the head coach and football team. New Mexico, however, isn’t in the best financial situation as far as the athletics department goes. Firing Davie would mean a payout of his contract, which means more wasted money as fans see it. But Davie being gone means a new chapter for Lobo football, one fans are desperately hoping for.

DP: Has all that talk been a distraction for the team this season?

MN: Without a doubt. The negativity toward the football team has been a major distraction for the UNM players. Of course, if you ask a player they’ll most likely dispute that notion. But a tweet from Elijah Lilly, a UNM wide receiver, on Sunday all but lamented a resounding sentiment: “I’ll do everything in my power next year for my team to make a bowl game,” he tweeted. “I’m tired of losing.”

DP: With six losses in a row, what kind of effort do you expect to see from New Mexico this week?

MN: It’s hard to know what UNM team will show up come Saturday. Although their offense is inconsistent, the Lobos’ defense, as usual, will be the deciding factor. Will it be the Lobos who forced five interceptions at NMSU? Or will it be the Lobos who allowed 417 passing yards to Liberty on homecoming? My guess is that the Lobos will play hard, fight tough and try to grab a win at the season’s end. As much as the win would be for them — the players — it’d also be to defend and diminish the negative words surrounding their play all season.

DP: If there’s an area where New Mexico could give Wyoming some concern, what would it be?

MN: Although New Mexico’s running game is nowhere near the way it was in past seasons, with the heavy use of the triple option and a variety of threats on the ground, they still pose a very formidable running back in Tyrone Owens. His speed isn’t the greatest, but he has the ability to find and create holes — and just play the position the way it is meant to be played. He most likely won’t cross the 1,000-yard threshold like he did his sophomore season, but he can tie — or even beat — last season’s rushing yards. Against Wyoming, he’d need 102 yards to do just that.

DP: What do you make of Tyler Vander Waal being back at QB for Wyoming given New Mexico’s struggles against the pass?

MN: Tyler Vander Waal has the perfect storyline setup for a redemption story, and there’s no better way to do that than against a depleted New Mexico secondary. Sure, he’s had his fair share of struggles, especially not having a touchdown pass for a three-game stretch at one point during the season. In the Lobos, Vander Waal will be facing the worst pass defense in the conference and arguably of his team’s entire season. I’m not too quick to say he throws for 400 yards and five touchdowns, but he can definitely get some work done.

DP: Any injury concerns for New Mexico heading into this one?

MN: It appears the Lobos have no injury concerns heading into Saturday’s contest. Cody Baker, a defensive lineman, was limited last game against Boise State last Friday. Of course, then-starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti has been out for most of the season as has Hart, one of UNM’s key linebackers.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

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Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter @DavisEPotter

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