New Mexico St New Mexico Football

New Mexico quarterback Tevaka Tuioti (8) searches for a receiver under pressure from New Mexico State defensive lineman Cedric Wilcots (10) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Albuquerque, N.M. New Mexico won 55-52. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

New Mexico quarterback Tevaka Tuioti made his season debut two weekends ago in the second half against Notre Dame. The redshirt sophomore stared down a daunting deficit against the Fighting Irish and was tasked with building momentum after the Lobos’ previous signal callers struggled.

Tuioti certainly has built momentum heading into today’s 6 p.m. matchup against Liberty at Williams Stadium.

“Ever since he took over in the Notre Dame game, they have really skyrocketed offensively,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said. “The numbers that they have put up from the second half of the Notre Dame game with him through this past game are pretty staggering. He presents a problem both throwing and running.”

The Lobos have 773 yards of total offense in the six quarters Tuioti has been at quarterback, highlighted by 598 yards in last week’s 55-52 win over New Mexico State.

Tuioti completed 16 of 28 passes for 355 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while rushing for 59 yards on seven attempts.

New Mexico (2-1), thanks to Tuioti’s emergence, ranks 27th in the nation in total offense, averaging 482 yards per game, and is 36th in scoring offense at 36 points per game.

“He is as good of a quarterback throwing the ball on the run as I’ve seen in a long time,” LU defensive coordinator Scott Symons said. “He made some big-time, [Johnny] Manziel-esque throws in that New Mexico State game. I’m talking about booting and sprinting out to his left and throwing a crossing route or a corner route all the way across the field 50 yards on the money. You watch that and you’re like, ‘Good night. That’s scary.’ He’s really, really talented.

“It’s like I told our guys, it’s not the same offense they played last year.”

LU (2-2) won a 52-43 shootout over the Lobos last season in Albuquerque. Tuioti broke the clavicle in his non-throwing shoulder in the first half of that game.

Former LU offensive coordinator Joe Dailey holds the same position at New Mexico, and he has opened up the offense.

“He can throw the ball as well as he can from the pocket as he can on the perimeter of the field on the move,” Dailey said of Tuioti. “When you’ve got a young man like that, you’d be remorseful if you didn’t use his skill sets to maximize full production and the outcome of the game.”

Tuioti completed passes to eight different receivers against New Mexico State, which will challenge a secondary battling injuries.

Starting cornerback Bejour Wilson, who missed last week’s Hampton game with a foot sprain, is day-to-day and will have his snap count limited if he plays. Cornerback Emanuel Dabney is probably out today with a hamstring injury.

Chris Megginson (Heritage) was moved from free safety to cornerback this week for added depth behind starters Kei’Trel Clark and Jimmy Faulks.

Safety Isaac Steele, who has dealt with a hamstring injury through the season’s first four weeks, was able to practice and is slated to play against the Lobos.

“I think their wide receiver corps is really, really strong. They have a lot of depth,” Symons said. “ … They’ve got some really good speedsters, they’re really solid and really well-coached up front. I think coach [Dailey] originally built that it’s all about running the ball, and they’ve got a great running back [Ahmari Davis], and I think [he’s] one of the better backs we’ve seen. I have a ton of respect for them. Shoot, they just scored 55 points. They’re pretty good.”

The Flames boast one of the nation’s better pass defenses (46th at 205.3 yards allowed per game) and will need to limit the production through the air in order to create a chance for their defensive line to get after Tuioti.

New Mexico is the only FBS team to not allow a sack.

“I think their offensive line is one of the more athletic ones that we’ve seen. I compare them to Buffalo offensive line-wise, but maybe more athletic at tackle,” Freeze said. “They’re long and lean and move extremely well. It will be a tall task for our defense on Saturday evening here. This game could go either way; it’s a tossup in my mind.”

Reach Damien Sordelett at (434) 385-5550.

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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