Sep. 23—Last year, UNM did not have a true freshman start on defense in its guaranteed money game at Texas A&M, which paid $1.1 million to New Mexico.
Saturday, safety A.J. Haulcy will change that in the Lobos' money game at LSU, which will pay $1.6 million to UNM, a 31 1/2 -point underdog.
Junior safety Tavian Combs is out for the season due to a torn ACL in his left knee, coach Danny Gonzales said after Thursday's practice, relaying what was mostly expected when the injury was sustained against UTEP on Saturday.
Haulcy, who was named Mountain West Conference freshman of the week after causing two turnovers in UNM's 27-10 win over the Miners, is slated to make his first start.
Combs, regarded as one of New Mexico's top players, played as the "Lobo" safety in UNM's 3-3-5 defensive scheme. He is third on the team in tackles with 16 to go with one pass breakup and one forced fumble.
"It hurts your team with your talent aspect, but that's football," Gonzales said. "Football is a violent sport. Those things happen, and you have to be prepared. That's why recruiting depth is so important. It's hard when you lose one of your best players, but you just step up and the next guy is up."
Haulcy, who also uses Adari as a first name, is a 5-foot-11, 220-pound 18-year-old graduate of Fort Bend Marshall High in Missouri City, Texas. He had offers from Kansas and Louisiana Lafayette.
Haulcy was the second straight Lobo to be named league freshman of the week. Running back Christian Washington was recognized after a 100-yard kickoff return in the Lobos' 31-14 loss to Boise State.
Haulcy showed early on during preseason camp that he was among a group of incoming freshmen eager to contribute big plays, UNM senior safety Jerrick Reed II said.
"You can tell just by the first day how a guy comes in and how he carries himself," Reed said of Haulcy. "He brings a notebook to the meeting room and he writes down his mistakes. He writes down his good plays too. He comes in every day ready to work. He's ready. He wants to win and he wants to be a great player."
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES: Last year, UNM started the season 2-0 but won just one of its next 10 to finish 3-9.
This year, the Lobos believe they're much different after their getting their second win of the season against UTEP to improve to 2-1. They're definitely improved on defense.
They finished last year 44th in the nation in total defense. UNM is up to No. 8, allowing 229.7 yards per game. New Mexico's defense is tied for fourth in the nation with 10 turnovers and the Lobos are fifth in the nation on third-down defense, allowing just seven of 39 third-down conversions.
"We have more talent," Gonzales said simply. "We're stronger. We're bigger and faster. There was a chance for us to be more competitive."
Gonzales is in his third year as head coach at his alma mater. This past offseason was his first full one he had with his team with no restrictions. The Lobos also added 20 transfers during the offseason. They had added seven transfers in each of the two previous seasons.
Gonzales was asked at his press conference on Tuesday if bowl-game eligibility (six wins) is a realistic goal for his team.
"We have a football game on Saturday that I'm worried about," he said. "I don't know about all that other stuff."
After LSU, UNM has one nonconference game left, at rival New Mexico State on Oct. 15. Gonzales believes New Mexico can be competitive and contend to win each of its remaining games.
LSU provides a huge challenge, then another test comes at UNLV on a short week, as the Lobos will play at Allegiant Stadium on Friday, Sept. 30.
"We have goals every single game," Gonzales said. "If you start worrying about what's on the horizon, you're not prepared for the one that's in front of you."
PROBATION: The NCAA ruled that LSU will be on probation, limited to 55 official recruiting visits during the 2022-23 academic year and must pay a self-imposed $5,000 fine among other punishments, the Daily Advertiser in Louisiana reported on Thursday.
LSU's probation does not include a bowl ban.
LSU had broken recruiting rules during the COVID-19 dead period, when former offensive line coach James Cregg and an unidentified former assistant director of recruiting met with a recruit and "provided the prospect with impermissible recruiting inducements," the NCAA ruled.
New Mexico at LSU, 5:30 p.m., espn+ (streaming), 770 AM/96.3 FM