At some point, if the Lobos Football program is going to get back to a place of relevance, an offensive identity and direction has to become clear.
Much easier said than done, of course.
I will note, as we make clear time and time again on TEAM Talk, that I have no expertise in this area whatsoever, yet I’m commenting as if I do. In any level of football in 2023, nothing is that simple. Just be better on offense and we’re on our way! This is not EA Sports NCAA 14 (sadly).
We can pick any number we want for a win turnaround this season, but the concern ahead of year four under coach Danny Gonzales is the question of whether or not this is going to be another transition year.
When the Lobos kick off in College Station against Texas A&M on September 2nd, this will mark the eighth consecutive season with a different Week 1 starting quarterback.
- 2016: Austin Apodaca
- 2017: Lamar Jordan
- 2018: Tevaka Tuioti
- 2019: Brandt Hughes
- 2020: Tevaka Tuioti
- 2021: Terry Wilson
- 2022: Miles Kendrick
- 2023: TBD (most likely UAB transfer Dylan Hopkins)
Any team in America would struggle to win games with any regularity under those circumstances. It goes without saying by now how vital the QB is to a team’s success and how much a strong QB can mask or make up for.
Hopkins comes to Albuquerque alongside his former Blazers Offensive Coordinator Bryant Vincent, who will hold the same position with the Lobos. Having a coach and coordinator from the same school is a change of pace, but we also cannot say with any certainty that Hopkins will win the starting job.
Whoever the frontrunner is, be it Hopkins, JuCo transfer Justin Holaday, who showed flashes in 2022, or even local fan favorite Isaiah Chavez, a clear picture of the QB depth chart going into fall practice might be a place to start.
Coach Gonzales, like most coaches, keeps that information extremely close to the vest for good reason. Even if we don’t know who the projected QB1 is, that person should know as soon as possible. Everyone staying healthy is vital as well. Losing a starting offensive lineman in the 2022 season opener already put a unit that was trying to find itself behind schedule.
Even if Vincent is named the starting QB, working under a familiar offensive coordinator, all of the pieces still have to fit together at University Stadium.
First on that list has to be a clear offensive identity. It can be run heavy, pass heavy, or a nice mix. But we simply cannot go into another season feeling uneasy when a drive starts with the endzone 75 yards away.
We know UNM has the defense to keep itself in any game on the Mountain West schedule. Even with several key offseason losses, starting with defensive coordinator Rocky Long, who took the same position at Syracuse, and departures from freshman DB sensation A.J. Haulcey (transfer to Houston) and Jerrick Reed (6th round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks) among others, the 3-3-5 defense has been strongly established under coach Gonzales, with a level of necessary comfortability that has set in.
No one is suggesting that anyone within the program is taking the defensive prowess for granted, but the hope and expectation is that that unit will remain dependable and keep the Lobos in games.
The other side of the ball is what is going to take the Lobos out of the Mountain West cellar. The Lobos were picked to finish last in the preseason poll.
UNM has faced plenty of adversity in trying to figure out an offensive identity, let alone establish it on the field.
The faith and trust in coach Gonzales should still be there among Lobos fans. But at some point, expectations are still there, even for a team that has had its share of struggles. The biggest question I ask in cases like this is “What is going to be different?” going into a new season.