The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming’s opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys’ 2021 schedule. Next up are the New Mexico Lobos.
LARAMIE — Wyoming will jump back into division play in late October against a program still looking to get things turned around in the Mountain West.
After a home tilt against West Division foe Fresno State, the Cowboys will continue their brief homestand Oct. 23 against New Mexico, which has fallen on hard times in recent years. The Lobos have posted four straight losing seasons and have won just three conference games during that time.
But UNM showed some potential in Danny Gonzales’ first season at the helm. Gonzales, a former UNM player and assistant, took over the program after Bob Davie was fired following the 2019 season and led the Lobos to a 2-5 record during their abbreviated 2020. While the record wasn’t much to write home about, it was the first time since 2016 that UNM has won multiple conference games.
One of those came against UW, which dropped a 17-16 decision that ended UNM’s 14-game losing streak, the longest in the nation at the time. So if there’s anybody that knows not to take UNM lightly despite their recent struggles, it’s the Cowboys.
And if the Lobos can build on some of that late-season momentum — UNM won its final two games — they could be a tough out for more teams this fall.
Gonzales first has to decide who’s going to run his offense. The Lobos have a veteran quarterback in senior Tevaka Tuioti, who’s been effective at times when healthy but has often been sidelined with injuries. Junior Trae Hall is back after leading UNM in passing last season, but the addition of Kentucky transfer Terry Wilson, who brings with him plenty of SEC experience having started 25 games for the Wildcats the last three seasons, may be a telltale sign of which way the Lobos are leaning at the position.
Running back Bobby Cole is back after leading the Lobos in rushing last season to take some pressure off whoever ends up winning the starting quarterback job, but quality depth is lacking for UNM at the skill positions. The Lobos’ other primary backs last season, Nathaniel Jones (transfer) and Bryson Carroll (graduated), have moved on, and receiver Jordan Kress has taken his big-play ability (18.7 yards per catch last season) to another Mountain Division program, Colorado State, as a transfer. Leading receiver Mannie Logan-Greene (30 catches, 277 yards) is back, though.
The offensive line returns mostly intact with four starters back from a group that paved the way for the Mountain West’s fourth-best rushing attack (195.7 yards per game) last season. The primary concern for the Lobos has to be a defense that allowed nearly 33 points on average last season while finishing 101st nationally in yards allowed.
The bad news for UNM on that side of the ball is leading tackler Brandon Shook is gone from the linebacking corps. The good news is there are still enough veterans around that could help the Lobos improve.
Joey Noble and Ben Gansallo are back on the defensive line, linebacker Devin Sanders returns on the second level, and Tavian Combs and Jerrick Reed II are the budding stars of the unit on the back end. UNM will need to find some reliable options beside Combs and Reed at corner, but the Lobos’ safety tandem combined for 84 tackles a season ago while Reed’s ballhawking tendencies also showed up in the turnover department. Reed led the Mountain West with four interceptions on his way to first-team all-league honors.
Adding Wilson to the mix is a start to increasing the talent level in Albuquerque. If the Lobos can develop some much-needed depth on their roster, it would go a long way in giving themselves a real chance to get out of the Mountain West cellar this fall.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.