The core tenet for defensive backs is for them to have a short-term memory, especially after giving up a big play.
In this day and age of pass-happy schemes with quick, super-athletic receivers, defensive backs must also remain confident and aggressive. Just ask Donte Martin, a redshirt freshman cornerback from Oxnard, California, who is part of New Mexico’s young secondary that has given up several big plays this season.
“Coming into the season I already had all the confidence I want,” Martin said when asked if he gathered confidence from breaking up four passes in a 32-21 loss to San Jose State last Friday. That number tied for the most in a game for a Lobo in the past 20 years. “When I go into games I don’t really feel like I am in a bad position. I feel like the receivers are in a bad position because they think they’re going to come in and control the game. But I’m really trying to control the game.”
The Lobos (2-3, 0-1 in Mountain West Conference), who play host to Colorado State (1-5, 0-2) on Friday night, are ranked 130th (and dead last) in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards allowed per game (386). The next closest to UNM is UCLA, which gives up 45 fewer yards per game, even after allowing 570 passing yards in its 67-63 win at Washington State on Sept. 21.
The UNM defensive backs are well aware that teams will attack them every game. The safeties are two junior college transfers, Jerrick Reed II and Letayveon Beaton, playing in their first season of NCAA Division I football. DeJohn Rogers, a senior, is considered to have the most experience.
Davie acknowledged experience dwindles even further behind Rogers and Martin. In addition, Johnny Hernandez, who usually starts at UNM’s “star” or nickle-back position, is doubtful with an ankle injury. Brandon Burton, a transfer from UCLA who sat out last year, has been starting in place of Hernandez.
Safety Kameron Miller must sit out the first half Friday because he was flagged for targeting against the Spartans.
Patrick Peek, who was starting at safety, told UNM coach Bob Davie he would redshirt the season two days before the Lobos played against SJSU.
The Lobos were hopeful Eric Cuffee, a junior college transfer who had a sparkling high school career in Waco, Texas, before advancing to the University of Texas, would be a key contributor.
“His status is that he’s a backup that’s not been able to get in games,” Davie said Wednesday. “He’s out here. He’s practicing. He needs to show improvement to be a guy that can go in a game for us.”
The Lobos are attacked frequently through the air, and Martin is 12th in the NCAA in passes broken up with seven.
“The best can be ahead of them if we stay healthy,” Davie said. “We’re thin there. … We’re so young, but it’s been competitive. They’ve had some bad things happen, but they have continued to fight.”
As bleak as things appear to be, here come the Rams, who will have 6-foot-6, 218-pound star receiver Warren Jackson back after missing two games because of a concussion. He has been eager to prove he is another outstanding CSU receiver following the likes of Michael Gallup (Dallas Cowboys) and Preston Williams (Miami Dolphins).
“It’s been positive,” Davie said of the situation in the UNM defensive backfield. “We test them in practice. They get tested every day. They’ve responded really well. I’m actually very pleased about that.”
Martin believes the UNM defense can make a difference on Friday night.
“I feel with Colorado State they put the ball on the ground a lot,” Martin said of the Rams, who have lost 10 fumbles this season. “They have a lot of turnovers. I know we can force turnovers against those guys and help win the game.”