From almost the first moment he stepped onto the University of New Mexico campus three years ago, Jeremy Leach has been the Lobos' quarterback. Now a junior, he has started in 32 of 33 games since then, the one miss being the result of illness. During that time, Leach has thrown for 7,987 yards, broken every Lobo passing record and maintained a pace that would make him one of the most prolific collegiate passers in history.
And this weekend he will be benched.Leach has simply been beaten out for the starting job by sophomore Marcus Goodloe, who will make his first collegiate start Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque against the University of Utah.
"The difference between them is one's lefthanded and one's righthanded," quipped UNM coach Mike Sheppard earlier this week.
Actually, Sheppard is hoping there is more than that. The Lobos are 2-8 overall, 1-4 in Western Athletic Conference play, and the play of Leach and the offense has been erratic, especially in recent weeks. In a 43-16 loss to Hawaii last week, Leach managed to complete just 10 of 27 passes for 114 yards, no touchdowns and 3 interceptions, dropping his season pass efficiency rating to a miserable 103.3. Goodloe, who has played in eight of 10 games this season, relieved Leach again and completed 9 of 13 passes for 125 yards and 1 TD. That was enough to convince Sheppard to promote him to starter.
"(Goodloe) has a chance to play now and make the offense more productive," says Sheppard.
For the season, Goodloe has completed 57 percent of his passes (25 of 44) for 234 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Leach has completed 48 percent of his passes (180 of 379) for 2,428 yards, 12 TDs and 16 interceptions.
Sheppard hopes that Goodloe can boost an offense that has been averaging 358 yards and 21.8 points per game.
The Lobos played well enough through much of the season while losing to three big-time opponents by a touchdown or less - Fresno State (24-17), Texas Tech (34-32) and Wyoming (25-22). The Wyoming game was the start of bigger problems. It was the first of four consecutive road games, and each game since then has been a rout - 47-7 to Colorado State, 55-31 to BYU, 43-16 to Hawaii.
Of course Goodloe can do nothing to help New Mexico's defense, which, in the last three games, has surrendered a total of 145 points and 1,653 yards. The Lobos allow an average 422 yards and 33 points per game.
"We're just glad to be home," says Sheppard. "We're a better team than the one that showed up last Saturday."
If history means anything, Utah's visit might not help matters. The Lobos have lost five of their last six meetings with the Utes, by an average score of 39.8 to 36.4. The biggest spread during those five games: six points. Utah is 3-6 and 1-5 this season.
The Lobos are not without talent. Linebacker Nate Morris has 91 tackles (48 unassisted). All-WAC defensive tackle John Bell has 10 sacks. Defensive end Mike Smith has 10 tackles for loss. Linebacker Steve Valpulu has 12 sacks and 5 tackles for loss.
On offense, the Lobos have All-WAC center Kurt Jensen and three busy wide receivers in Eric Morgan (65 catches), Mike Henderson (47 catches) and Carl Winston . The Lobos have no running game to speak of, which might be why they use 282-pound nose tackle Monte Cuba and the 255-pound Bell as running backs in short yardage situations.
"The team, under my leadership, is making mistakes losers make," says Sheppard. "That's why we're losing games. We're going to try to get those things corrected, because we were horrible (at Hawaii)."