LARAMIE, Wyo. – In these days of spread offenses, the zone read and run-pass quarterbacks like Wyoming’s Brett Smith, building a defense is like building a house with nothing but toothpicks.
Yet, the New Mexico Lobos – notwithstanding their 532 yards allowed Saturday to the Wyoming Cowboys in a 38-31 UNM defeat – do have some bricks and mortar on that side of the ball.
Dakota Cox, a true freshman linebacker from Draper, Utah, continues to show he’s part of that foundation.
Against Wyoming, Cox got the third start of his young career at UNM’s “mike” linebacker spot. He finished the game with nine total tackles, tying senior “will” linebacker Dallas Bollema for team honors.
After six games, Cox ranks forth on the team with 29 tackles – 15 solo, 14 assisted.
“We’re getting there,” Cox said of the defense. “I think it’s gonna come progressively. We’ve just got to take advantage of the plays we do get out there.”
On one series in the second quarter, with the Cowboys up 21-0 and looking for more, Cox was in on three tackles in a span of six plays. Wyoming punted, and the UNM offense then drove 67 yards for the Lobos’ only points of the first half – a 30-yard Justus Adams field goal.
But Cox’s efforts, and those of the entire Lobos defense, were simply not enough.
After UNM rallied to tie the game at 24 early in the fourth quarter, Cox got his final stop of the game – dropping Cowboys running back Brandon Miller after a 4-yard gain to set up a third-and-6 situation.
On the next play, Smith found Miller for a 20-yard gain. Seven plays later, Wyoming had its go-ahead touchdown.
There’s no shortcut, coach Bob Davie has said, for his young defense. True freshman cornerback Jadon Boatright was victimized Saturday on a long pass play. But Boatright and other true freshmen must play, as Cox is doing, if they’re to learn.
“All those live reps (in games), it’s never going to be the same as we get in practice,” Cox said. “It’s always faster. We’ve just got to keep learning, getting better.”
Cox was one of UNM’s higher-rated 2013 signees, having originally committed to Cincinnati. He became available to UNM after being lost in the shuffle when the Bearcats had a coaching change.
Still, back in August, no one had Cox penciled in as a starter – except, perhaps, Cox.
“When I came in, I told myself that I wasn’t gonna redshirt, that I was gonna fight for that starting position,” he said. “I had the mindset where I knew I could get there if I tried hard enough. I just kept playing and kept learning everything I could.”
Bollema, who plays alongside Cox at inside linebacker, said the freshman doesn’t play like one.
“He’s a great player,” Bollema said. “… He’s there making the (defensive) calls right next to me.
“I don’t have to take him under my wing too much. He’s holding his own ground pretty well, and that’s nice to have.”