Lobo Football Most Improved?

Dec. 13, 2012

By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications

The debate about the most improved college team annually in the Football Bowl Subdivision oftentimes can be a subjective debate.

The 2012 University of New Mexico, however, has statistical evidence on its side.

The Lobos are proud owners of the most improved point differential, based on average per game, from 2011 to 2012. UNM improved by 25.3 points per game; after being outscored 41.7-12 in 2011 (29.7 points per game), the Lobos lost games by only 4.4 points per game in 2012 (30.2-25.8).

Coach Bob Davie has said that opposing Mountain West coaches often mentioned UNM’s progress during pregame conversations. The coaches talked up the Lobos’ rise in other venues, as well.

“Clearly, you’ve got to be impressed with what (Davie) has done,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said during a Mountain West teleconference call in October. “They’re doing a great job on both sides of the ball. They’re taking care of the ball on offense; they’re creating turnovers on defense. They’ve got one of the top turnover margins in the league and in the country. They’re a little bit shorthanded. They have 75 (scholarships); we know what they’re going through, being low on numbers. But to change the culture like he has, to where they’re competing the way they do, it takes a great coaching effort and clearly coach Davie and his staff have really hit something with their guys where they’re all buying in.”

UNM is also the only program in the nation that can boast more wins this season (four) than in its previous three seasons combined (three).

And some of the 2012 statistics in comparison to those of the 2009-11 years combined has to give even the most ardent Lobo pessimists hope for the future.

The biggest turnaround, aside from the scoring, has come in New Mexico’s rushing game. During the past three seasons, the Lobos averaged 107.1 yards rushing per game, and their average finish among the 120 FBS schools was 107th.  With the bowl season just about here, the Lobos currently are No. 5 in the country in rushing with an average of 301.3 yards per game – or a jump of 102 spots, statistically.

“They do a terrific job of (running option out of the pistol formation),” Nevada coach Chris Ault said during a November conference call. “I think Bob has done a great job of taking that personnel and matching the option portion of the pistol with the personnel he’s got. It’s fun watching them.”

Prior to the start of the 2012 season, Davie often talked about UNM improving upon the things it could control on the football field – making sure that “the Lobos don’t beat the Lobos,” he said.

Davie wasn’t just paying lip service.

In the categories of turnovers and penalties, UNM showed almost as dramatic progress as in its running attack.

The Lobos are tied for 16th in the nation in turnover margin at plus-0.85 per game. They averaged a minus-0.72 and languished in 103rd place from 2009-11 for an 87-place jump among the national rankings.

Naturally, that corresponds to similar jumps in turnovers lost and turnovers gained. UNM committed 14 turnovers in 2012, ranking 14th, compared to its mean of 26 annually from ’09-11 and 82nd – a jump of 68 spots. The Lobos forced 25 turnovers and ranked 27th in 2012. That’s eight more turnovers (17) and 62 places (89th) ahead of their 2009-11 averages.

UNM’s 40.8 penalty yards per game is 23rd in 2012, nearly 15 yards and 57 spots better than in 2009-11 combined (55.7 yards, No. 80 nationally).

Other major jumps the Lobos have made are in the following categories:

  • Scoring defense (a 10.4-point improvement from 2009-11 to 2012, up 40 spots nationally).
  • Scoring offense (an 11.1-point improvement, up 37 spots).
  • Total offense (a 77.8-yard improvement, up 22 spots).
  • Total defense (a 15.8-yard improvement, up 17 spots).

Those kinds of changes don’t just happen by chance.

 “In terms of discipline, structure, all those things go hand in hand with success and I think he’s added those elements to his program,” Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said of Davie during a November teleconference. “He’s doing some really good things, offensively. They’re making it difficult to defend. They’re chewing up clock and moving the football. I think he’s done a pretty darn good job in one year, considering how many players he’s lost and what little depth he has. I think it’s a tremendous job.”

Opposing MW players also took notice.

Air Force beat UNM by scores of 37-13, 48-23 and 42-0 in 2009, ’10 and ’11, respectively. So when the Lobos had the ball at the Falcons 12-yard line late in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown, Air Force knew these 2012 Lobos were different animals, even though it escaped with a 28-23 win in Colorado Springs.

““That’s a good team now. That’s not the New Mexico that I’m used to,” Air Force senior linebacker Alex Means said after the game.” No disrespect to that program, but I remember my freshman, sophomore, junior years, they were not nearly that good. And I think that’s probably the coaching staff. They had the athletes and this year, that coaching staff has done wonders with that team.

“They’re not looking to lose. This is not the old New Mexico. This is a good squad.”

Davie is the first to say that his job has just started, and the rebuilding process will require a few more years to get the program on solid ground.

But even if the Lobos don’t have everyone convinced that they were the most improved college football team in America in 2012, no one can deny that the program is in the conversation.