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Wright: UNM’s D an eyesore for Maine

By far the most famous graduate of the University of Maine is award-winning horror novelist Stephen King.

Although King was not present (or was he?) at the Varsity stadium on Saturday, several of his novels – their titles, at least – found an easy application to the 41-0 victory of the New Mexico Lobos. on the Maine Black Bears from the Master of Fear.

“Misery:” The UNM defense gave a lot to the Maine offense.

‘The Green Mile’: “For the Black Bears, their offensive end zone must have seemed at least that far.

At his weekly media briefing last week, Lobos third-year coach Danny Gonzales said neither he, defensive coordinator Rocky Long, nor their defensive players were happy with the dramatic improvement that this unit had brought from 2020 to 2021.

While still not satisfied, Gonzales surely liked what he saw on Saturday: a defense that gave the Black Bears just seven first downs, 118 total yards and no points.

“They understand how good we expect them to be and how good we want them to be,” Gonzales said. “And that is progress.”

Although Maine barely provided the ultimate test, it was truly a Rocky Long defense: physical and quick, reminiscent of Long’s units when he was UNM head coach from 1998-2008.

“We have to see (the defense) in practice every day,” UNM quarterback Miles Kendrick (14 for 17 passes, 170 yards, two TDs) said afterward. “…They just steal and make games.”

“The Dead Zone”: The East Stand of the University Stadium was pretty much that, now that the UNM students and band have been moved to the North Zone.

The reported attendance of 15,166, or 38% of capacity on what turned out to be a fine evening in early September, appears to accurately reflect the community’s stance on Lobo football.

Gonzales thought the crowd was loud and involved — especially this relocated student section.

“I thought (the fans) were great,” he said. “I thought the students were exceptional.”

But Albuquerque wants to see more, and not just against the Maine Black Bears.

“The Running Man:” Not so much, at least not in the first half, and not between tackles. The Lobos finished with 267 yards rushing, but leading running backs Sherod White and Christian Washington rushed for just 31 yards on 11 carries through the first two quarters.

With running back Nate Jones back in the lineup this week – after sitting out Saturday’s opener due to a prior Gonzales deal – things could improve on that front.

The ground game eventually gained traction because Maine’s defense could not keep up with the Lobos’ considerable speed on the edges; that and some nice scheming from offensive coordinator Derek Warehime finally saw UNM gain a few yards down the middle in the second half.

White finished with 58 yards on 13 carries.

Gonzales said he was happy with the offensive line, as was Kendrick, and the Lobos were unsuccessful the first three quarters. Of course, that says something.

But can they get the tough yards against better opposition?

“Needful Things”: “Kendrick had some good times; maybe he can be the first real QB run-pass the Lobos have had since Graham Leigh (1997-98).

Yes, Kendrick can throw, although his longest achievement was just 27 yards – that in Washington on a cleverly designed fake coin toss.

And yes, Kendrick can run, which is 57 yards minus sack yardage.

But Kendrick needs better ball security – he had two interceptions in the first half – and his ability to launch into tight windows was not fully tested on Saturday.

Ball safety in general was an issue, Gonzales noted, or at least could have been. The Lobos fumbled three times but got them all back.

Lobo running back Sherod White is brought down short of the goal line by Maine defenseman Xavier Mitchell on Saturday afternoon at University Stadium.
Albuquerque, New Mexico/Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal

“End of watch:” Under no circumstances; we are just getting started. This is, after all, what FBS teams are supposed to do to FBC teams.

The progress Gonzales’ program has made since the 3-9 season can only be measured by a decisive, efficient and enjoyable victory against a team that plays in a lower ranking. “Green Mile” applies here too.

“It”: Boise State, the Mountain West Conference team with the “It” factor the Lobos have long sought but never found, is next.