Football: Lobos rebuilding defense
From the outside, it may look like Bob Davie’s long-term plan for the New Mexico football team isn’t working, particularly on defense.
UNM’s head coach said he’s not overly concerned about the Lobos’ defensive struggles, pointing out that Baylor’s defense struggled mightily for two seasons under coordinator Phil Bennett before turning it into a top-11 defense this season.
For Davie it’s all part of the process for rebuilding UNM.
“I can think to so many times in coaching where sometimes you have to weather it and get through it,” he said. “That’s certainly, step-by-step, how this program is going forward.”
But Davie also knows the reality of the situation now as the Lobos’ 115th-ranked defense heads to Fresno, Calif., to face No. 15 Fresno State, who has the fourth-best passing offense in the nation.
Fresno State (9-0, 6-0 Mountain West Conference) plays a no-huddle spread offense that is propelled by quarterback Derek Carr. Davie said Carr is the catalyst behind the offense, but that the Bulldogs have some of the best receivers in the conference.
“He’s (Carr) fun to watch, if you weren’t playing against him. He’s got a quick release last year, a strong arm. I think he’s a first-round quarterback,” Davie said. “It’s hard because they put four really, really good — I’m talking about big-time receivers out there … We’re going to try to cover them and we’re going to try something out there.”
Carr has thrown for 3,421 yards, which is the fourth-most amount in the country, 34 touchdowns to just four interceptions and has a 69.5 percent completion percentage. Wide receiver Davante Adams leads Fresno State with 91 receptions for 967 yards and 15 scores, which leads the country. Two other wide outs have at least 60 catches in Josh Harper (68) and Isaiah Burse (61), who have combined for 12 touchdowns and 1,475 yards.
The Bulldogs rely on two running backs who have rushed for over 500 yards, Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller.
“Offensively, they’re fast and really talented,” safety David Guthrie said. “They have one of the best quarterbacks in the country and they have three receivers that really make that offense go. Those are three big-time receivers with a lot of talent.”
UNM (3-7, 1-5 MWC) will be heading into Bulldog Stadium without its top quarterback and running back. Sophomore Cole Gautsche and senior Kasey Carrier, who have about 60 percent of UNM’s total yards of offense, will miss the remainder of the season due to concussion symptoms after receiving blows to the head during last Saturday’s 66-42 loss to Colorado State.
Junior running back Crusoe Gongbay will start for the injured Carrier.
In Gautsche’s place will be junior signal-caller Clayton Mitchem, who has thrown for 461 yards with a 54.4 completion percentage.
This will also be Mitchem’s sixth start this season.
“He (Mitchem) does have a little different skill set because he hasn’t been here as long as Cole,” Davie. “The triple option piece of it, we’re always going to have the triple option. But maybe as far as truly running all three phases of it like we do with Cole, I doubt we’ll do that.”
Fresno State’s defense ranks third in the Mountain West Conference and 78th in the country, allowing 416.1 yards per game. The Bulldogs give up 154.9 yards on the ground for the 56th ranked rushing defense in the country.
However, Davie said the numbers are deceiving because of how fast Fresno State’s offense plays, giving more possessions to the opposing team’s offense.
“Schematically they’re a lot like us. Schematically we’re almost identical,” Davie said. “They’re good. Their offense snaps the ball a lot and they’re on the field a lot because their offense snaps the ball a lot, but they’re good.”