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Improved Lobos' Defense Faces Big Test

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Bulldogs Present Big Test for Improving UNM Defense

Bob Davie appreciates the kind words he’s heard and read about his New Mexico Lobos’ prolific, and sometimes explosive, option-based offense.

As a career defensive coach, though, he’ll thank you for a little appreciation of the guys on the other side of the ball.

“Our offense has gotten a lot of positive comments from people,” Davie said this week, as his Lobos (4-4 overall, 1-2 in Mountain West Conference play) prepared for today’s league game against Fresno State (5-3, 3-1). “But I’ll tell you, our defense, with what they’ve been able to do under some really difficult circumstances, deserves every bit of the positives that our offense has gotten.”

Today
Fresno State at New Mexico, 1:30 p.m., Comcast (77 in Albuquerque, 21 in Santa Fe), 770-AM.

The numbers support that statement – or, at least, they’re starting to do so.

In UNM’s first 3 1/2 games, the defense gave up 140 points. Doing the math, that’s an average of 40 per game.

Since then, in 4 1/2 games, the Lobos have allowed 86 points – an average of 19.

Then again, there’s how you play and there’s who you play.

On Sept. 15, the Lobos gave up 702 yards total offense to Texas Tech’s no-huddle, spread offense.

In comes Fresno State with a no-huddle, spread offense that bears striking resemblance to Texas Tech’s, with the Bulldogs’ Derek Carr playing the role of the Red Raiders’ Seth Doege at quarterback.

That, Davie acknowledges, could be a problem.

“I’m sure Fresno State realizes they match up pretty well against us,” Davie said. “I’m sure they’re pretty excited about the matchups.”

New Mexico defensive coordinator Jeff Mills is equally excited to see how far his unit has come since Sept. 15.

After that game, Mills said, the Lobos simplified their basic defensive scheme.

At Texas Tech, the Lobos attempted to match personnel with the Red Raiders – putting five or six defensive backs in the game when Tech’s formations seemed to dictate it.

The normally pass-oriented Red Raiders responded by running the ball – 325 yards’ worth – while throwing for another 377.

Since then, UNM has largely dispensed with its dime package (six defensive backs) and limited use of the nickel (five DBs) in an effort to keep its best players on the field at all times.

“Since that game,” Mills said, “we’ve tried to really keep the focus of just making sure we take care of the run, take care of our gap integrities … and at the same time changing up on coverage so we can defend the pass better.

“I think we’re a different team than we were at that time, but at the same time Fresno’s outstanding. It’s gonna be a big challenge.”

Fresno State’s challenge is to get the ground-eating, clock-eating UNM offense off the field.

Lobo senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook did not practice this week after suffering a concussion at Air Force last Saturday, and true freshman Cole Gautsche – just back from his own concussion – is expected to start.

Gautsche’s flair for the option keeper, coupled with running back Kasey Carrier’s record-breaking 338 yards on the ground against the Falcons, suggests few passes will be thrown while New Mexico has the ball.

Senior wide receiver Ty Kirk has six catches this season, good for 53 yards and UNM’s only passing touchdown. He won’t deny he’d like to see a few throws come his way, and he knows Holbrook’s absence further dims that prospect.

Even so, he said, blocking downfield for Carrier, Gautsche, Jhurell Pressley, et al., has its charms.

“If we’re being successful, it’s nothing I can be mad about,” he said. “I enjoy it.”

If the Lobos are to stay with Fresno State – a 14 1/2-point favorite – the UNM defense will have to make the afternoon less than enjoyable for Carr & Co.

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