LOS LOBOS LOCOS
Arizona defeated New Mexico 45-37 in the 2015 New Mexico bowl. Why is that important? Well, among the rush of exuberant fans were critical voices that wondered why the Wildcats, who were double-digit favorites, barely survived. After all, New Mexico had not had a winning season in nearly a decade. In fact, eight years earlier, the lowly Lobos had completed a three-year stretch with just three wins – total – for all three years.
It seemed to me that those who were critical of Arizona just didn’t know what has been happening in Albuquerque. The New Mexico Lobos have become the one team that opposing really don’t want to see on their schedules.
So, what has been happening? How could a team that was predicted to finish dead last in the 2015 Mountain West Conference season actually finish second?
Well, we’ll begin with their head coach, Bob Davie. Yes, the former head coach at Notre Dame. Since Davie came to Albuquerque, the Lobos have finished in the top-10 nationally every year for running the football. In 2015, the Lobos were number one (number one!) in the nation for number of plays over sixty yards, fourth in red zone defense, top-25 in tackles for a loss, had the leading tackler (per game average), and the nation’s leading kick returner. In just the month of November, the Lobos beat Utah State, Boise State, and Air Force—all of them bowl-bound teams!
Those are great accomplishments on the field, but here are some off-the-field that impress me just as much:
* Twenty-five players are from the state of New Mexico which means the roster is loaded with two-stars
(and less) by a coach committed to the people of his state.
* His recruiting class last year ranked 118th and this year, it currently stands at 126th.. How is he winning?
* His final year at Notre Dame, the player-graduation rate was 100% and he won national honors.
* And now, in his fourth year at New Mexico, he leads the Mountain West in player-graduations.
Fate makes strange bedfellows sometimes and so it did with Bob Davie and the University of Arizona. Besides meeting in last year’s bowl game, Davie accepted a full-ride scholarship to—wait for it—the University of Arizona. However, he left Arizona soon after arriving because of the death of his brother.
Later, Davie returned to the University of Arizona as an assistant coach.
Last December as his team faced Arizona, Davie was tied to yet another tragedy when sophomore safety Markel Byrd left campus to spend the Christmas holidays with his family in San Diego. A blown tire sent his car catapulting through the air and it ejected Markel to his death.
When Rich Rodriguez was considering the head coaching job at South Carolina, Davie’s name was high in the rumor mill for his replacement showing once again how eerie the connection between Davie and the University of Arizona has been.
New Mexico‘s success is largely founded on the brilliant defensive mastery of it’s coach. Davie is considered the chief designer of Texas A&M’s “Wrecking Crew” which led the nation in total defense in 1993 and then the next year at Notre Dame defense where his defense produced the lowest yards-per-game defensive total of the decade. At New Mexico, he has been recognized for having significantly upgrading the Lobos’ key defensive stats every year.
But what makes New Mexico so feared is what New Mexico does on offense with its feared triple-option attack. Davie built it to be as entertaining as it is productive and in 2015 that New Mexico offense became the ONLY offense to produce 300 yard rushing seasons, three years in a row!
So, what makes it so magnificent? Well, this should give you an idea. Take the Georgia Tech offense and plug it into a 220 circuit. Yeah, that’s Los Lobos Locos.
On one play, three running backs might scatter while on another, they all stampede the pasture and crush everything in sight. On another play, they might hand off straight up the middle while on the next, they fake two—and sometimes even THREE— times before getting the ball to someone. Sometimes it’s a bull-rush in a straight line veer while the next is misdirection. Is it any wonder that opposing coaches have come to loathe the Lobos?
Can they pass?
Well, sort of.
There are some schematically sound passing plays, but the answer is “no”, the Lobos can’t pass. You see, when you run the ball 80% of the time, you find it hard to recruit high school quarterbacks. I watched New Mexico in many games last year and found their running game fabulous to watch. But the passing attack . . . oh my. Sheer agony. Nonetheless, they posted their first winning record in a decade, made it to a bowl game, and measured up well in the national stats.
So getting back to Arizona fans; you don’t have to think that beating New Mexico by sngle digits is cause for concern. Your concerns have more to do with fixing your defense and replacing some dazzling stars. New Mexico makes everyone look bad so, pick up your saggy chin and put a smile on that sunburned face and be glad you don’t have to play the Lobos again.
I have been watching the Lobos in the off-season (blogs, news reports, etc.) and looking at their schedule for this season. I don’t think New Mexico will improve on its 7-5, but I only say that because it’s been so hard to recruit competitive players to Albuquerque. I don’t think recruiting classes of 118th and 126th will
New Mexico to get much higher. Nonetheless, they will once again be bowl-bound and prove that 2015 was not a fluke.
And, there is a speck of dust in the eye of that argument and it’s painful. You and I aren’t the only ones who know that recruiting to New Mexico is so difficult. Bob Davie knows it even more and I suspect he will be on the first plane leaving Albuquerque in January 2017 and the poor folks in the Land of Enchantment will be back gazing into their magnificent sunsets and spitting into the dust of those crazy days of Bob Davie and Los Lobos Locos.
~~~~ Bobby Albrant