MADISON, Wis. — New Mexico coach Bob Davie said he liked the effort that redshirt sophomore quarterback Tevaka Tuoti gave the Lobos in a season-opening victory last week.
But a road game in a raucous atmosphere will pose significant challenges for New Mexico (1-0) when it plays No. 5 Wisconsin (1-0) at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
Tuoti was a threat on the ground and in the air during a 62-30 win against Incarnate Word, a Football Championship Subdivision team. Tuoiti completed 13 of 21 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed 11 times for 54 yards and another touchdown.
“He has plenty of talent,” Davie told the Albuquerque Journal. “There is no question about that. Tevaka made a lot of plays, a lot of great plays.”
Senior running back Zahneer Schuler also found success in the Lobos’ spread-offense attack, as he rushed for 90 yards on five carries.
But the biggest area of concern for Davie and New Mexico, is the Lobos’ execution on defense. The team’s defensive coordinator is Kevin Cosgrove, who worked as a Wisconsin assistant coach from 1990 to 2003.
The Lobos gave up 566 overall yards, including 328 passing, against Incarnate Word.
Senior middle linebacker Alex Hart is the only player to return among the team’s top five tacklers from 2017. He racked up 58 tackles last season, which ranked third for New Mexico.
The home victory last weekend provided a boost for the Lobos, who lost seven straight games to close last season. Davie was blunt with his assessment of the Lobos’ progress.
“It wasn’t near good enough on defense,” Davie said. “We’ve got to take this personal. We’ve got to bounce back. We need to clean this up and move forward, because I know we can play better.”
The Lobos will face tough tasks in containing a pair of Wisconsin standouts in junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook and sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor posted eight carries for 145 yards, two touchdowns and one fumble lost in the Badgers’ 34-3 season-opening win over Western Kentucky. It was the 11th 100-plus yard effort in a single game for Taylor.
Wisconsin junior wide receiver A.J. Taylor led the air attack with five catches for 85 yards.
Hornibrook completed 17 of 29 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
Wisconsin allowed 305 yards of offense against Western Kentucky, with 100 of those yards coming in the final quarter.
The Badgers were stellar in the red zone as the Hilltoppers finish 1-for-4 with those chances and weren’t able to score a touchdown.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said gaining experience in those scenarios can be helpful going forward.
“What’s fun about the game is none of that carries over,” Chryst said. “What leads you to that is guys stepping up and making plays and continuing to play.
“I think experience of having been in those (situations) and having success helps, but you have to do it. So, it was good this game for this year’s defense to do it. It doesn’t guarantee you anything going forward, but it’s an experience, and it’s something you can build of off.”
Wisconsin senior inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, who collected seven tackles against Western Kentucky, said the offense and defense tend to do a good job of picking each other up.
“We tried to pick up the offense when we could and they did a great job of picking us up and just kind of keeping us off the field for as long as they could,” said Edwards, who registered seven tackles against Western Kentucky.
“I thought as a unit, as a team, we played together really well.”
The Badgers could get a boost on defense in the coming weeks as redshirt sophomore Isaiahh Loudermilk returns to action. Loudermilk, who had left knee surgery in May, was cleared to practice this week.
Loudermilk including six solo stops, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks in a reserve position during the 2017 season.
Chryst said the way Loudermilk responds in drills this week will determine his availability against New Mexico.
“He’s been able to practice some,” Chryst said. “As the week progresses, our intentions are — let’s go see where he is at.”