ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The pistol option baffles defense
The New Mexico Lobos’ option-heavy, pistol formation-based offense can be a beautiful or a horrible thing, depending on one’s vantage point.
“I love this offense,” Lobos sophomore running back Jhurell Pressley said, shortly after scoring on runs of 19 and 57 yards during Saturday’s spring-practice scrimmage at University Stadium. “Nobody (on defense) knows who has the ball until the last minute.”
Dante Caro loves the Lobos’ offense, too, but mostly in the fall and not so much in the spring.
Aug. 31: UT-San Antonio at New Mexico, time, TV TBD.
“Oh, man, this offense is something special,” Caro, a senior strong safety, said after UNM’s defense gave up five touchdowns and at least 16 plays of 10 yards or more during Saturday’s 1 1/2-hour scrimmage.
“This being a running offense,” Caro said, “you’d think you’d be able to come downhill and fly to the ball. … That’s not the case. They’re running option; they’re giving you so many multiple looks; they’re having you line up every which way and giving you all those formations.
“If you’re not prepared, this offense will rip you apart.”
The UNM running game, which ranked fifth in the nation last year with an average of 301 yards per game, did exactly that for most of Saturday’s controlled scrimmage.
Star running back Kasey Carrier was held out of the workout, coach Bob Davie said, to give younger players more repetitions. Even without Carrier, according to unofficial statistics kept by the Journal, the Lobos rushed for about 400 yards and averaged more than 7 yards per carry.
In addition to Pressley’s bursts, junior Crusoe Gongbay had runs of 11 and 18 yards. Former St. Pius star Xavier Madrid had a 14-yard run and scored a touchdown from a yard out.
“(Running back) is the one position on the team where there’s really a lot of competition, the way it should be,” Davie said. “That’s what it’s supposed to look like at other positions, and you can see what competition and numbers do.”
But UNM’s ground assault wasn’t limited to the running backs. Junior quarterback David Vega went 27 yards with an option keeper, and wide receiver Marquis Bundy had a 22-yard run on an option play.
So, yes, the Lobos, behind an experienced offensive line, can run. But can they throw – or, at least, will they be able to, come the fall?
Junior college transfer quarterback Clayton Mitchem, acknowledged as UNM’s best passer this spring, missed Saturday’s scrimmage with a strained quadriceps. But sophomore Cole Gautsche, a strong runner and the incumbent starter, threw touchdown passes of 14 and 10 yards to Carlos Wiggins and Bundy.
Vega moved the chains with completions of 13 yards to Cleveland walk-on Reece White and 14 to Eldorado walk-on John Russo.
“I think back to last fall,” Davie said, “(when) we really just couldn’t complete a pass. I think we’re getting to where we have a chance to be a little more balanced on offense.”
The defense wasn’t without its moments during Saturday’s scrimmage. Caro, one of only six seniors on the defensive roster, said he has seen progress since spring practice began March 26.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement, not just physically but in the mental aspect of the game, which is big-time for the young guys,” Caro said. “Once they get the mental part down, they can let their athleticism (take over).”
Davie singled out junior outside linebacker Javarie Johnson for some solid hits; Caro and junior cornerback Tim Foley recovered fumbles.
Davie noted that defensive stalwarts Dallas Bollema and Jacori Greer, like Carrier, sat out the scrimmage. “They’re fine,” he said. He noted that before Saturday the Lobos had done very little tackling to the ground this spring.
He also expressed regret that he’d opened the scrimmage to the media.
“(The media starts) keeping score in practice, and that’s probably a great indication of why you don’t do it,” he said. “… I don’t think it’s time to put the scoreboard up there.”
Still, he was keenly disappointed at the number of big plays his defense gave up.
“I think we’re farther along than we were a year ago,” Davie said. “But until we get more physical (with) more big hits and we don’t give up big plays, let’s not kid ourselves: We’ve got a lot of work to do.
“… I guess I hoped it would have been better. Fortunately, it’s April and we’ve got time to keep building.”
COACHING CLINIC: Davie and his staff hosted 104 high school coaches, most if not all from New Mexico, Saturday at UNM’s annual spring clinic.
Davie said the prep coaches viewed a video the UNM staff had produced for its own players regarding on-field safety: “Proper tackling, proper blocking, how to use the helmet properly. We’re going to try to cover a lot of things with them, more than just X’s and O’s.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal