Who has the edge? New Mexico Edition Part II
LARAMIE — People like to say that the game of football is
not played on paper.
They are right — but it’s still fun to look.
Today, we will breakdown the defenses of the New Mexico
Lobos (2-4, 0-2) and Wyoming Cowboys (4-2, 1-1). The two squads will meet
Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium.
So, who has the edge on offense?
Let’s break it down real quick.
It was a forgone conclusion that Wyoming was going to march into San Diego and put quarterback Ryan Agnew on his wallet all night long. After all, the Aztecs had given up 11 sacks in just five games. The Cowboys, well, they lead the Mountain West Conference with 20. That was surely a lopsided match up, right? Wrong. SDSU’s front five didn’t allow one sack and limited pressure all night long. When Agnew was in danger, he simply fled and made a play down field. Wyoming’s front stuffed the Aztecs running game throughout the first half. SDSU managed just 120 yards on the ground all night. The Cowboys, thanks in part to guys like Cole Godbout, Javaree Jackson, Mario Mora, Garrett Crall, Solomon Byrd and others, allows just 89 rushing yards per game. That’s good enough for 10th in the nation. Maybe this week will bring a reverse of fortunes to the Pokes D-line – New Mexico has given up just four sacks all season. Two of those came against Colorado State last week.
There are plenty of holes on the Lobos defense – the line doesn’t feature one of them. These guys up front have been solid all season long. New Mexico’s front three causes enough havoc to allow the linebackers to get to the holes and make plays. Led by nose tackle Aaron Blackwell and defensive end Nahje Flowers – the Lobos only returning starters on defense – New Mexico is ranked 44th in the nation against the run, allowing just 128 yards per game. That’s just 3.6 yards per rush. In their last outing, the Lobos held CSU to just 131 yards on 38 carries for an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Dante Wright picked up 64 of those yards on one rush. These guys could pose a problem for a Wyoming offensive line that will be starting a pair of back-ups in Patrick Arnold and Frank Crum.
For the first time this season, defensive coordinator Jake Dickert deployed three linebackers in a game. He did that to slow down the Aztecs rushing attack. Chad Muma, Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia responded by holding San Diego State to just 120 yards on 36 carries. Keyon Blankenbaker, the Cowboys nickel back, played sparingly as the trio of linebackers roamed sideline to sideline making plays at SDCCU Stadium. Maluia led the team with nine tackles and Wilson recorded seven stops and two tackles of loss on the night. The backers held SDSU tight end Daniel Bellinger to just two catches. Unfortunately for the Pokes, one was the game-winning grab in the end zone with 2:09 left in the fourth quarter. These guys should be very active tomorrow afternoon. New Mexico loves throwing to its tight end, Marcus Williams. They have completed a team-best 14 passes to the 6-foot, 3-inch, 215-pound junior. The Lobos also feature a two-headed monster in the backfield. Ahmari Davis and Bryson Carroll have rushed for nearly 900 yards and scored six touchdowns on the ground. Starting quarterback, Sheriron Jones, is the team’s third-leading rusher.
Get to know the name Alex Hart. No pun intended, but he is the heart and soul of the Lobos defense. Remember this is a school that has pumped out the Mountain West’s all-time leading tackler, Carmen Messina, Dakota Cox and NFL Hall of Famer, Brian Urlacher. Hart is not at that level, but he leads the Lobos with 41 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two pass breakups. The next closest in the linebacking corps is Alexander Vainikolo with 25 tackles. These guys will be facing a Wyoming line that has allowed just four sacks on the season and has the athleticism to get to the next level and throw a block. The Cowboys tight ends haven’t been utilized much in the passing game, but Jackson Marcotte and Josh Harshman can block down field, too. These guys are going to get a heavy dose of Xazavian Valladay and need to step up when Sean Chambers takes off with the ball.
Tyler Hall, Azizi Hearn, Braden Smith and Jordan Murry held the Aztecs to just 209 yards passing last Saturday night in San Diego. Aside from the win over UNLV, this was the secondary’s best game this season – by far. Wyoming ranks 126th in the nation in the yards-against category, allowing 308 passing yards per game. This group has gotten markedly better since conference play began. Alijah Halliburton and Rome Weber have been heavy hitters in the secondary and have played a major role in why the Pokes are one of the top rush defenses in the nation. It will be interesting to see if anything changes for those two after safeties coach, Willie Mack Garza, was suspended by the school Friday afternoon for receiving a DUI Oct. 17. New Mexico’s passing offense hasn’t been anything to write home about. The Lobos average just 205 yards through the air per game. That’s good enough for 95th in the nation.
Yes, the Lobos have the worst pass defense in the country, allowing nearly 400 yards per outing. Yes, that’s statistically the worst. That’s 71 more yards per game than Arizona, which is giving up 320 per game. What really has hurt the Lobos this fall though is their inability to create turnovers. Jerrick Reed, New Mexico’s starting safety, has the team’s lone interception this season. He even cashed that in for a touchdown. The secondary has just 20 pass breakups, too. To put that in perspective, Wyoming has 32 deflections. And you know the secondary hasn’t been the Cowboys strength. New Mexico has forced four fumbles through six games. They haven’t recovered one. They are minus-10 in turnover margin, behind only Hawaii and New Mexico State. Wyoming is a plus-6 and ranked No. 11 in the nation in that category. That’s the biggest difference between these two clubs.