UTSA Roadrunners (6-6 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. New Mexico Lobos (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 17, 2016 at 2PM EST
Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UTSA +7/UNM -7
Over/Under Total: Off
The UTSA Roadrunners come to University Stadium to take on the New Mexico Lobos in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. As the name would strongly suggest, the Lobos will be at home for this bowl appearance on the heels of a strong 8-win season where they had the top rushing attack in the nation. Bob Davie has really turned this program around and they look to cap it off with a bowl win. To do so, they’ll need to beat a Texas-San Antonio team that bounced back from a 3-win season in 2015 to go 6-6 and get to this spot. Who covers the spread in New Mexico?
The Roadrunners did pretty well for themselves, still a relatively new member of Conference USA and the FBS. Former LSU assistant Frank Wilson was able to step in and bring the team up to bowl-eligibility in his first season at the helm. They overcame a 1-3 start and posted wins over Southern Miss, Rice, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, while closing out the regular season on the 26th with a 33-14 win over Charlotte. Among their six losses were defeats to Colorado State, Arizona State, Louisiana Tech, and Texas A&M. They scored some nice wins, including a 20-point win over a dangerous Middle Tennessee bunch.
There is nothing the UTSA Roadrunners do great, as they’re just a capable and well-coached team that tries to get the most of what they have. Their offense averages 30 points a game, led by QB Dalton Sturm, who has 18 TDs on the season with just 5 picks. His top receivers are Josh Stewart and Kerry Thomas, Jr., backed up by Brady Jones and Marquez McNair. On the ground, they use two good backs in Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes, as the pair has combined for over 1500 yards with 17 touchdowns on the ground. In recent games, QB Jared Johnson has been taking snaps, with more a two-pronged approach at QB toward the end of the season and they’ve seen a little surge in their aerial attack.
The Texas-San Antonio defense will be seeing a rushing attack in this game unlike any they’ve seen this season. It’s good they have a rest leading into this, as the Lobos offense can really run a defense ragged. They weren’t terrible against the run this season, giving up 157 yards per game. They can sometimes apply a decent pass-rush and secured a respectable 18 turnovers on the season. They held Texas A&M to 23 points two weeks ago before giving up just 14 to Charlotte, so they head into this game having played some of their best defense of the season recently.
To grasp what New Mexico has accomplished in recent seasons forces one to remember where they were not too long ago. Before former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie ended a long sabbatical to take over the Lobos, they were on the heels of three straight 1-11 seasons. They made steady improvements, lifting themselves from laughingstock status to a level of semi-respectability. And in the last two seasons, they’ve established themselves as a credible bowl team, with 7 wins in ’15 and 8 this season. A 2-3 start to this season lacked promise, before New Mexico got on their best roll in years by winning 6 of their last 7 games and putting together a fine 6-2 conference record in the Mountain West. Among their better wins were triumphs over an Air Force team that won 9 games and a Wyoming team that went to the conference title game.
The New Mexico offense is a very run-heavy group, bolstered by a strong line up-front and a slew of players that can do damage on the ground. The flip side of that equation is that they are in fact one-dimensional with an aerial attack that is ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams. In most of their games, quarterbacks Austin Apodaca and Lamar Jordan both get snaps. In their last game, a big win over Wyoming, Jordan got all the work and even threw for 122 yards on just 4-for-5 passing. Going for over 200 yards on the ground was top back Teriyon Gipson. He has 13 touchdowns on the season with 1209 yards on the ground. Also at the Lobos’ disposal is another 1000-yard back in Tyrone Owens. Jordan has run for 658 yards, while short-yardage maven Richard McQuarley has pounded it in for 16 touchdowns on his 588 rushing yards. And while the aerial attack is an afterthought, they can make some noise, as well, with the defense so preoccupied with the ground-game.
The New Mexico defense is by no means infallible, allowing an average of 32.4 points a game. They can make some plays and have even scored on a few occasions. The pass-rush was inconsistent, but was a factor in some games. Up-front, Garrett Hughes gets after the quarterback, as does fellow lineman Nik D’Avanzo. Still, they enter this game having given up 84 combined points in their last two games. Unlike UTSA, this defense isn’t exactly hitting this bowl game with a lot of momentum on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve given up 32 or more points on 7 different occasions.
Still, this is a time of adulation for a New Mexico team that really had a good season by any MWC team’s standards, but especially a team that was flat on its back not too long ago. Last season, New Mexico was in this very bowl game, falling to Pac-12 team Arizona in a one-score battle. I think they’re a better team this season with a higher ceiling and with a more-manageable opponent. I think the New Mexico run-game wears out a game UTSA bunch, enabling them to get some late separation for the cover.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the New Mexico Lobos minus 7 points.
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