New Mexico Non-Conference Preview: Incarnate Word Cardinals
What will Incarnate Word look like when the rebuilding Cardinals visit New Mexico to open the 2018 season?
The bottom fell out for UIW last fall, which is good news for the Lobos.
Location: San Antonio, TX
Conference: Southland (FCS)
2016 Record: 1-10 (1-7 Southland)
Head Coach: Eric Morris. A Texas native, Morris played at Texas Tech and made his name as the Red Raiders’ offensive coordinator from 2013-17. He helped quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a first-round standing in the NFL Draft, a qualification which surely appealed to UIW after its offense struggled to just 4.4 yards per play in 2017.
WR Phillip Baptiste
Baptiste was a bright spot for an otherwise limp passing game, leading the Cardinals in catches (31) and receiving yards (623). That’s over twenty yards per catch, for those who didn’t feel like doing the math, and that big-play capability is something that New Mexico struggled with last fall, when they allowed 23 plays of 30 or more yards.
LB Mar’kel Cooks
The junior linebacker was one of three UIW athletes to earn an honorable mention on the all-Southland team, leading the Cardinals with 88 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. He also earned 2.5 sacks, so his ability to blow up a play might prove a challenge for New Mexico’s new-look offense.
QB Sean Brophy
A lot of responsibility will be thrust upon whomever ends up under center in Morris’s Air Raid attack but Brophy, the incumbent starter, will have to work to keep his job. The current UIW roster lists seven quarterbacks, including former Hawaii QB Cole Brownholtz, and Brophy was only okay in extended playing time last fall. He threw for 1,267 yards and 11 touchdowns, but completed just 56.2% of his passes and had 11 interceptions, too.
DE Darrius Montgomery
Rushing the passer was not one of the UIW’s strengths in 2017, but Montgomery did lead the team with four sacks, contributing 6.5 tackles for loss overall. UNM quarterback Tevaka Tuioti was fairly adept at avoiding sacks, getting thrown for a loss on less than two percent of his dropbacks, but Montgomery could throw a wrench into that number.
CB Jamarkese Williams
If the Lobos want to try their hand again at throwing the ball more aggressively, they’ll want to keep an eye out for the senior Williams, who followed up a solid 2016 by leading the Cardinals with nine passes defended.
The Cardinals offense won’t have to do much to improve on many of last year’s numbers: UIW converted just 27% of third-down conversions, turned the ball over 28 times and committed 81 penalties in 11 games. Better production from the running game would relieve a lot of pressure from the quarterback position, so Ra’Quanne Dickens should see plenty of work after averaging 4.4 YPC in 2017. Baptiste and WR2 Zaire Andre (30 catches, 392 yards, 4 TDs) return, but other receivers will need to step up and take some targets.
Being a Cardinal defender was often thankless in 2017. They allowed a whopping 47.7 points per game, created just 12 takeaways and ranked 121st out of 123 FCS teams in opponents’ passer rating. Thankfully, the secondary returns all of its starters in Williams, Kyle Covington, Jawun Jiles, and Marques Britten. UIW also ranked 109th in tackles for loss, so the hope is that the front seven, headlined by Montgomery, Cooks and Justin Alexandre can take another step forward.
The Lobos offense sputtered more often than usual last fall, but while they still have to sort out their running game behind Tyrone Owens, it seems likely that the explosive potential in their up-and-coming runners will be a good fit for a matchup with a shaky run defense. And while Morris should get UIW’s passing attack headed in the right direction at some point, it appears that it could be too erratic to be relied upon for a realistic upset bid right now. New Mexico 28, Incarnate Word 14