ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — We all remember those pencil marks on the door frame, as our parents measured our growth.
If Bob Davie were measuring the growth of his defense, through four games, those marks would be going down – as the opposition’s offensive numbers go up.
Progressively (or regressively), Davie’s New Mexico defense has given up 21, 35, 49 and 56 points. The Lobos have allowed – in order – 394, 399, 527 and 568 yards total offense.
Saturday night, after UNM’s 56-42 loss to UNLV at University Stadium, the Lobos’ second-year head football coach made it clear that no protein shake or miracle drug will get his young defense growing in the right direction.
It’s just a process.
“We are what we are right now,” Davie said. “We’ve just got to keep going, keep playing, keep plugging.”
If the above quote makes Davie sound like the ultimate patient dad, well … maybe not.
“We’ve got to get a little bit more mature,” he said. “We’ve got to make some plays and make some tackles. … It’s humbling.”
After Saturday’s defensive debacle, the Lobos rank 110th nationally among 123 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense and 116th in scoring defense.
Davie bemoaned the Lobos’ poor tackling, a season-long problem. But the defense also blew some coverages and assignments, allowing Rebels players to score untouched on a pass play of 69 yards and a rush of 75 yards.
“I don’t think we had too many missed tackles, but we can always improve,” defensive end Brett Bowers said. “Mostly, it was just missed assignments … That’s what really makes a defense. Do your job, and you get stops.”
IT’S NOT JUST THE ‘D’: After a circus-like first half that ended in a 35-35 tie, the Lobos (1-3 overall, 0-1 in Mountain West Conference play) actually showed improvement defensively against UNLV (3-2, 1-0) in the second half.
After giving up a go-ahead touchdown on UNLV’s opening drive in the third quarter, the Lobos got three consecutive stops. After a Rebels fumble forced by Bowers and recovered by cornerback SaQwan Edwards, UNM tied the score at 42 on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Cole Gautsche to Carlos Wiggins.
“You could definitely start to feel the momentum shift,” Bowers said.
The Lobos, however, would not score again – losing a fumble, punting twice, then giving the ball up on downs in the fading moments after UNLV had put the game away with two fourth-quarter scores.
SCHEME 42, PERSONNEL 56: Afterward, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said the Rebels made some halftime adjustments that helped his defense slow a UNM triple-option attack that was beyond prolific in the first two quarters. After scoring 35 points in the first half, the Lobos managed just one touchdown in the second.
For the New Mexico defense, Davie said, there were few schematic adjustments to be made – because the Lobos’ problems generally weren’t related to scheme.
The Lobos knew what was coming, he said, and still couldn’t stop the Rebels’ pitch-and-catch combo of Caleb Herring and Devante Davis.
Herring, UNLV’s senior quarterback, completed 24 of 34 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns. Davis, the Rebels’ junior wide receiver, caught 10 passes for 164 yards and three TDs.
“Number eight (Herring), give him a lot of credit,” Davie said. “… Number 81 (Davis), he’s a man. Eighty-one made a lot of plays, made a play every time he basically wanted to.
“It wasn’t a schematic thing like I think our offense was doing to them,” Davie said, “as much as theirs was just making plays.”
THE DISCIPLINE FACTOR: In their first three games, the Lobos committed just eight enforced penalties for 78 yards. Against UNLV, those numbers were six for 60 – including a costly first-quarter unsportsmanlike-conduct call against linebacker David Orvick for yapping at Rebels running back Tim Cornett.
The penalty came as the Lobos appeared to have gotten a defensive stop. Given new life on that series, UNLV scored a touchdown that tied the game at 21.
“Unacceptable,” Davie said. “… Nobody feels worse about it than (Orvick), but that was a big play in the game.”