RUIDOSO – Was it Fighter A’s hard fist or Fighter B’s soft chin that resulted in an early knockout?
Was it a great piece of hitting or a lollipop of a hanging curve that sent the ball over the center-field fence?
Was the offense that good or was the defense … uh … not so good?
University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie wants to believe his offense is that good. On Thursday, the Lobos’ offensive unit had another in a series of productive practices in fall camp at the White Mountain Recreational Complex.
Starting quarterback Cole Gautsche and backup Clayton Mitchem threw the ball accurately, with few drops from their receivers.
Gautsche hit senior wide receiver Jeric Magnant with a long touchdown pass. The offense scored on the ground almost at will in red-zone drills.
The defense? Well, redshirt freshman defensive back Markel Byrd had an interception. But, for the guys in the white jerseys, obvious positives were few. Perhaps the defensive coaches can find some when they review Thursday’s practice film.
Yet, as pleased as he was with the offense, Davie believes his defense’s day will come.
The question is – as always – when?
Inside linebacker Dakota Cox, only a sophomore but the defense’s unquestioned leader, believes that day will come sooner than later.
“I really feel the defense is doing some great stuff out there,” Cox, 6 feet and 230 pounds, said after Thursday’s practice. “We’re just building and building and continuing to get better.”
Cox is the foundation.
Originally having committed to Cincinnati out of Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, Utah, Cox was lost in the shuffle when coach Butch Jones left for Tennessee and was replaced by former Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville.
Cox wound up at New Mexico, largely because of the relationship he’d developed with Lobos assistant coach Kevin Cosgrove during the process.
Cosgrove now is Cox’s position coach and defensive coordinator.
“I feel like, all in all, I made the right choice,” Cox said after Thursday’s practice. “This is a great fit for me, and that’s how I feel every day.”
As a freshman linebacker, he cracked the starting lineup last season in game five and finished as UNM’s leading tackler. The Football Writers Association of America named him a freshman All-American.
This summer, Cox was accorded two more honors rare for a sophomore. He was elected by his teammates as one of three captains for the 2014 season and, with offensive lineman and fellow team captain LaMar Bratton, represented the team at the Mountain West Conference media day in Las Vegas, Nev.
“I just take it in stride,” Cox said. “… I’ve always tried to be a leader, so it’s nothing new to me. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
The New Mexico defense, statistically one of the worst in the nation last year, needs to do far better than it’s done if the Lobos are to improve significantly on their 3-9 record of 2013.
Cox said he sees progress in the form of quality and depth.
“If someone goes down, to have a guy jump in there and know what he’s doing, that’s what we’re really looking for,” he said. “… There’s so much depth we have now, that people at any position can do that.”
Davie sees that, too, which likely explains why he was far happier with his offense Thursday than worried about his defense.
“We’re immature (on defense),” Davie said, “but we are talented. We are talented.
“There’s some pieces there that I think we can develop. It’s just (a question of) how fast we can get developed.”
OUTBREAK: Several players have been hit with a flu-like illness. One of those, sophomore defensive end Nik D’Avanzo, a likely starter, attended practice but didn’t participate.
“It’s a bunch of guys,” Davie said. “It’s across the board.”
With players living, practicing and attending meetings in close quarters, Davie said, such episodes are not unusual.
“Every (training camp) I’ve ever been in has been that same way,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get it under control.”
Davie, while certainly not happy with this development, saw it as an early test.
“(Football) is dealing with different things, different events that happen,” he said. “… (The flu symptoms are) the event, and you have to respond to it.”
RAINED OUT: A scheduled Thursday evening practice was scrubbed because of rain that further softened the already soft Ruidoso practice fields. Davie had planned an hourlong workout that would focus on special situations – two-minute offense and defense, etc.
Thursday was the only time in UNM’s 11-day stay in Ruidoso that two practices were scheduled. It’s not clear when or if the evening practice will be made up.