ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Defensive linemen are being coached to fly to the football
Contrary to a popular saying, not everything is relative. A 1-11 record, even when compared with 0-12, still bites.
Here’s something, though, that is indeed relative: aggressive line play on defense.
Last spring, University of New Mexico football coaches talked about leaving behind the read-and-react D-line philosophy of 2009-10 and just flying to the ball.
A year later, that’s not the way senior defensive tackle Rod Davis remembers it.
“Last year,” Davis says, “it was all, like, slow play and everything: get your hands on the offensive guy, shed him, read, look for the ball.”
The Lobo defense didn’t often find the ball last season, at least until it reached the end zone. New Mexico went 1-11, for the third straight year, and ranked 118th of 120 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense.
And now, under first-year defensive line coach Archie McDaniel?
“We’re just pinning our ears back,” Davis says.
That, perhaps, is the biggest change on the D-line this spring — even more important and fundamental than the switch from a four-man alignment to a three-man front.
“We are going to be a penetrating defensive line,” McDaniel says. “We’re gonna fly around, we’re gonna run to the ball, and then we’re gonna line up and do the same thing again.
“There’s not gonna be a whole lot of ‘If he does this, you do that.’ … It’s gonna be, here’s your call, line up, boom. Let’s beat the guy in front of us, and wherever the ball is, we’re running full speed to go get it.”
Still, the switch to a three-man defensive front, an alignment favored by head coach Bob Davie, could pay dividends as well.
In 2009, new head coach Mike Locksley scrapped departed coach Rocky Long’s 3-3-5 defense and installed a four-man front. The Lobos were short on defensive linemen and, throughout Locksley’s disastrous tenure, never caught up.
With a three-man front, McDaniel says, he has more than enough bodies — and likes their potential.
“I’m gonna be struggling with how to get guys in, which is good,” he says. “And you’ve got a bunch of veteran guys with a little savvy to them, so I’m excited.”
The defensive line, in fact, is UNM’s most senior-laden position group. Six of the nine D-linemen on the spring roster are entering their final seasons.
In terms of experience, that’s somewhat deceiving. Among the five scholarship seniors, only one, defensive end Jake Carr, has played his entire career at New Mexico. The others are transfers from other Division I schools, such as Reggie Ellis and Ugo Uzodinma, or junior colleges, such as Davis and Fatu Ulale.
Davis, 6 feet and 300 pounds, came to UNM last season from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. He enrolled at Texas A&M after high school but encountered academic problems there.
His late arrival in Albuquerque, he says, has made his final college season that much more important.
“There’s a real sense of urgency,” he says. “We want to learn the defense as well as we can and get comfortable with it, make it our own.”
Davis and McDaniel met in 2008 at A&M, where the latter was a graduate assistant. He was a three-year starter at linebacker for the Aggies from 2002-05.
Thus, Davis wasn’t surprised at the energy McDaniel, 28, brings to his work.
“I can sit in the film room,” McDaniel says, “and tell a guy, ‘You’ve got to do this, this and this.’ But it’s so much easier to come out on the field and say, ‘This is what I want you to do. Watch me do it.'”
If McDaniel has his way, Lobo fans will be watching a much more aggressive defensive line next season.
“I told the guys this the first day I got here,” he says. “I said, ‘Name one great defense you’ve ever seen that didn’t have a dominant defensive line.’
“… That’s our drive, that’s our focus, and that’s the path we’re gonna continue on.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal