The University of New Mexico Lobos faced an uphill battle in their first game of the 2020 season.
Not only were the Lobos forced to play their first home game on the road in San José due to COVID-19 restrictions in Albuquerque, but they also kicked off the first game of the Danny Gonzales era of UNM football against one of the most prolific passing offenses in college football.
San José State averaged the third-most passing yards per game last year, trailing only Washington State and the National Champion LSU Tigers.
Gonzales and defensive coordinator Rocky Long knew they had their hands full with the Spartan passing offense when they drew up their game plan for Saturday night’s showdown at CEFCU Stadium.
To beat the Spartans, the Lobos would need to limit big plays Nick Starkel and the Spartan passing offense while limiting mistakes on offense and converting on critical third down plays.
For the first half of the game, the Lobos kept things close and headed into the locker room down 21-14 despite allowing 281 passing yards and three passing touchdowns to Starkel.
The second half of the contest did not go as well for UNM, as the Spartans outscored the Lobos 17-7 with Starkel adding another 273 yards and two more passing touchdowns.
The 6’3”, 214-pound senior from Argyle, TX finished the day with a robust stat line of 467 yards and five passing touchdowns on 34 of 47 passing. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Starkel played through an apparent back injury for the majority of the second half.
Starkel was unable to start the second half of action as Nick Nash took the first snap of the second period for the Spartans. Starkel returned to the field after three snaps by Nash and completed the rest of the game for head coach Brent Brennan.
Quarterback Tuioti Tevaka completed 20 of 35 passes for 294 yards and a pair of touchdown passes for the Lobos. He hit Cedrick Patterson III with a 39-yard strike for the first UNM score of the game and would add a second TD toss to Andrew Erickson with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.
The touchdown was the first score for Erickson, an Albuquerque native and graduate of Manzano High School.
The defense under first-year head coach Danny Gonzales played hard and swarmed to the ball, but they were unable to control the high-powered Spartan passing offense, and they were not successful on third downs. San José completed nearly 50% of its third-down attempts compared to just 28% for the Lobos.
Tavian Combs and Brandon Shook led the Lobos with ten tackles each, while Ben Bertram posted the only sack of the game for New Mexico.
Linebacker Kyle Harmon led the Spartans defensively with 14 total tackles, including seven solo and one tackle for a loss. The Spartans posted an impressive seven total TFL’s and limited the Lobos to a combined 3.7 yard per carry average.
With five passing touchdowns and 467 passing yards, quarterback Nick Starkel was the play of the game. Wide receivers Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker should also get some consideration for player of the game for their impressive performances. Gaither led the team with ten catches for 208 yards and a score, while Walker scored two receiving touchdowns, including a one-handed circus catch that will likely be replayed on Sports Center Top 10 tonight.
The Lobos continue their COVID-19 shortened regular season with a road game against Hawaii on November 7th. The Spartans head south to San Diego to take on the San Diego State Aztecs on Friday, November 6th.