2015 CFB Preview – New Mexico

    New Mexico LobosGo to Team Page LobosGo to Selection Page           In theory, this should work far, far better. By Pete Fiutak |

    July 1, 2015

    New Mexico
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    In theory, this should work far, far better.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    Bob Davie inherited a total mess after the Mike Locksley disaster, and while the results haven’t been there on the field, he was the right coaching option to restore the respect to the program. But after going 11-26 in the first three years – and with former head coach Rocky Long cranking out Mountain West contenders at San Diego State – New Mexico isn’t producing, and it should be.

    Davie has the offensive style that should work to at least control more games – crank up the running game, own the clock, limit the mistakes – but the problem is that he’s a defensive coach by nature. He made his name as a superstar defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Notre Dame, and that’s what’s so bizarre about New Mexico football over the last three seasons.

    With a running game that ranked fourth in the nation, all the defense has to do is be decent, and the results should’ve been there. Instead, New Mexico was 124th in the country in total defense – allowing 519 yards per game – and did absolutely nothing of note. It was an equal opportunity giver, allowing massive yards both on the ground and through the air.

    There will be some changes and some tweaks to the defensive alignment, and the offense will look to be more explosive and a little bit stronger overall, but going forward, there’s no reason to be giving up 58 points or more three times – even if those games are against teams as good as 2014 Arizona State, Boise State and Colorado State. This is supposed to be the team with the style that can beat a good team here and there, and yet in three seasons, Davie has yet to get a W over an FBS team that finished a season with more than four wins.

    Seven starters return to both sides of the ball, and even though it took a while, there’s depth forming and a few good options to play around with at several spots. New Mexico is going to run the ball very, very well, and the defense is going to improve.

    The wins can come. The system is sound. However, after seven years without a winning record, the Lobo fans have been patient enough.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: You know what the offense is going to do. The pistol-option will run and run some more with a great backfield pairing of Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson to work around. The line gets back three starters to work around with a good left side, and the power will be there with the quickness for one of the nation’s top ground attacks. Will there be a little bit of a passing game? It only came up with 89 yards per game, but as long as it’s more efficient – whether it’s Lamar Jordan or Austin Apodaca under center – it’ll be what the offense needs. It would be nice, though, if a dangerous receiver could emerge.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: It’s desperation time for a run defense that got steamrolled over and didn’t do anything against the pass, either. The linebacking corps in the 3-3-5 alignment could be excellent if star Dakota Cox can come back at some point and be close to the tackler he was before tearing his ACL. There’s experience on the front three, but the size has to hold up against the tougher teams while the back eight cleans it up. The safeties are going to be solid, but the Lobos need work at the corner after allowing 250 yards per game.

    What to watch for on offense: What’s the coaching staff going to do with the quarterback situation? Former starter Cole Gautsche is a tight end now, but Lamar Jordan is a dangerous option runner who fits the option system and ground attack. However, Jordan isn’t a passer, and he wasn’t efficient or effective when he had his chances against single coverage and when plays were there. In comes Austin Apodaca, who’s making about as massive a change as a quarterback can undergo starting out his career with Mike Leach and Washington State and no now trying to fit into the Lobo system after going the JUCO route. Will there be a quarterback rotation depending on the situation? If you could combine Jordan with Apodaca, you’d have a tremendous Mountain West quarterback.

    What to watch for on defense: Welcome to more of the 3-3-5. The run defense hasn’t been a positive so far under Davie, and now the idea will be to get faster and more athletic. There’s bulk up front, but it’s a bit thin for a four man front. Now there will be an extra defensive back more often than not – as opposed to the 3-4 working last year – and while that might not help against the power teams, the Lobos should be better against the spread attacks. At least that’s the goal with the talented young tacklers in the secondary.

    The team will be far better if … the D comes up with a few more third down stops. Why is New Mexico on a seven-year streak of losing seasons? Third down defense, being awful at it since 2008. The system needs the offense to hang on to the ball – it only converted 37% of its third down chances despite having a slew of third-and-short opportunities – and the defense has to get off the field. The Lobos allowed teams to convert 51% of their chances and only did a good job against UTSA – a win, with the Roadrunners converting just 33% of the time – and, oddly enough, Boise State – a shootout despite holding the Broncos to 30% of their shots.

    The schedule: Tulsa should be far better, but the Lobos need the home win after starting out with the Mississippi Valley State layup. With New Mexico State at home, the non-conference slate is relatively easy, even with the road game at Arizona State.
    – Three of the next four games after dealing with Tulsa are on the road, starting out the Mountain West season at Wyoming and going to Nevada after playing NMSU. If the Lobos can split, the expectations will be there to do more over the second half of the year.
    – Four of the last six and three of the last four games are at home. Colorado State and Air Force should be excellent, but at least both those games are at home.
    – Going to Nevada isn’t going to be easy, but in interdivisional play the Lobos get a break with Hawaii at home along with a date at San Jose State.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … the road trip at Wyoming. The Cowboys should be improved, and after going to Arizona State the Lobos might be a bit beaten up. Both teams will be running and running some more.

    Best offensive player: Senior RB Jhurell Pressley. The star running back in the Lobo offense gets lots and lots of chances to produce. The Lobos have a guy built for the job in Pressley, who has the speed to break off huge runs and can pound a little bit when needed. Four of the top five running backs return, and Pressley, along with Teriyon Gipson, will provide a deadly 1-2 punch that should combine for over 2,000 yards. Pressley will be a statistical superstar.

    Best defensive player: Junior LB Dakota Cox. How important was he to the Lobo defense? He earned All-Mountain West honors and led the team in tackles by almost 30 despite missing the last three games of the year with a torn ACL. He’s still a question mark health-wise coming into the year, and it’s asking a lot to be 100% early on, but he needs to be out there to provide toughness in the 3-3-5 alignment. If not, Kimmie Carson becomes the big-tackling producer.

    Key player to a successful season: Junior DT William Udeh and/or Junior DT Jack Ziltz. If the run defense is going to be tougher and better, it starts on the inside needing Udeh – more of a 3-4 end than a true nose tackle, even at 6-0 and 282 pounds, and former JUCO transfer Jack Ziltz to become anchors. This is a big front three, but it needs rocks to work around the interior to start to be far better.

    The season will be a success if … New Mexico wins six games. There’s still too much to do to become a player in the Mountain West, but in Davie’s fourth year, being two wins better isn’t a big reach. Mississippi Valley State, Tulsa, New Mexico State and Hawaii are must-wins at home. Do that, and the Lobos are a win against a team like San Jose State or Wyoming on the road, or an upset over Utah State, Colorado State or Air Force at home, to come up with a breakthrough campaign.

    Key game: Sept. 26 at Wyoming. Both the Cowboys and Lobos are in the same place. They’re not going to win the Mountain West, and they’re not going to make a massive push, but they’re going to be good enough to be in the hunt for a bowl game and make that next step forward. Each team will be pointing to this game as the litmus test, and if New Mexico wins, it’ll likely start out 4-1 with a few winnable games ahead.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Rushing Yards Per Game: New Mexico 310.4 – Opponents 269.5
    – Sacks: New Mexico 24 for 171 yards – Opponents 11 for 73
    – Third Down Conversions: Opponents 92-for-180 (51%) – New Mexico 56-for-152 (37%)

    Players You Need To Know

    1. LB Dakota Cox, Jr.
    The overall results might not have been there for the defense over the last few years, but it’s not Cox’s fault. He stepped up with a tremendous freshman season in 2013 making 99 tackles and getting better and better as the season went on. Extremely smart, quick, and always around the ball, he turned into even more of a playmaker last season with a team-leading 116 tackles with an interception and two tackles for loss with 19 stops against Fresno State, 18 against New Mexico State, and 17 against UTEP. Unfortunately, he missed the final three games with a torn ACL after coming up with 14 tackles against Boise State. At 6-0 and 230 pounds he bulked up and looks the part of a middle linebacker, but he has to get healthy first.

    2. RB Jhurell Pressley, Sr.
    The 5-10, 200-pounder turned into the best offensive weapon last season with a team-leading 1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns – averaging a whopping 9.5 yards per carry – while catching seven passes for 64 yards. Quick, tough, and with the speed to come up with the home run now and then, he ran for 100-yards or more in six of the final eight games, highlighted by a seven carry, 154-yard, two score day against Boise State. He’s not a workhorse, but he’s built to handle the ball a lot more. One of the Mountain West’s most dangerous playmakers, he’s the one the defenses have to key on to stop first.

    3. DE Nick D’Avanzo, Jr.
    The Lobos need more of a pass rush, but most importantly, they need to be tougher all the way around up front. That starts with D’Avanzo, a 6-3, 285-pounder from Baltimore who stepped in as a true freshman making 31 tackles and turning into a major factor. Very fast and very athletic for his size, he’s one of the team’s best pass rushers with 4.5 sacks – with two against Utah State – and seven tackles for loss to go along with 52 stops. He’s turning into one of the key parts of the front six to work around.

    4. RB Teryion Gipson, Jr.
    While he took a backseat to Jhurell Pressley in overall production, Gipson led the team in carries finishing second on the team in yards with 809 and eight scores. The 5-8, 176-pound speedster also turned into a nice receiver with 15 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, but his real worth is as a dangerous runner. Consistent, he came up with 70 yards or more on a regular basis, blowing up against Boise State for 205 yards and three scores on 24 carries.

    5. LB Kimmie Carson, Soph.
    Only 6-0 and 199 pounds, he’s not built for the middle, but he took over inside last season when Dakota Cox got hurt. More of an outside defender, he’ll be used more as a pass rusher whenever Cox is healthy and ready to go, but he’s versatile enough to be used in a variety of roles. Extremely fast with the ability to cut on a dime, he showed what he could do over the final two games making ten stops against Colorado State and closing out with 16 tackles in the win over Wyoming. Now he’ll be more of a disruptive force in the backfield.

    6. QB Lamar Jordan, Soph.
    Is he going to be the main man or will it be Austin Apodaca, who’s more of a passer but will try to run a bit. Jordan finished third on the team with 612 rushing yards and three scores, averaging over five yards per carry, but his passing struggled in a big way, completing 53% of his throws for 894 yards with six touchdowns and five picks. At 5-10 and 183 pounds, he’s not that big and he doesn’t have a huge arm, but he’s a baller who can make plays and could become a far more efficient and effective passer now that he knows what he’s doing. If not, Apodaca has the upside to at least create a good quarterback rotation.

    7. S Markell Byrd, Soph.
    The secondary didn’t do much of anything against the pass, but Byrd did his best to try to clean up everything against the run. The former quarterback turned into a full-time defensive back showing off good range and speed with good tackling skills considering his inexperience. At 5-11 and 188 pounds he’s not all that huge, but he can hit in the open field making 50 tackles overall with 31 unassisted. Now he has to come up with more big plays coming up with just one pick and forcing one fumble, but the upside is there to be one of the team’s defensive stars for the next few seasons.

    8. CB Cranston Jones, Sr.
    Not all that big, the 5-8, 176-pound Jones is a battler in the open field with great speed and decent toughness, but he doesn’t do enough on deep passes and only broke up four passes on the season. However, he came up with three picks taking one for a key touchdown in the win over Wyoming. A willing tackler, he made 27 stops on the season and did what he could, but all that really matters is whether or not he can become more of a lockdown defender in his final year.

    9. P/K Zack Rogers, Sr.
    A decent placekicker, he nailed five of his eight attempts getting two blocked. He has the leg, but he topped out at 44 yards – now he needs more chances. However, he did a strong job punting averaging 42.6 yards per kick putting 17 inside the 20.

    10. TE/QB Cole Gautsche, Sr.
    A very big quarterback who looked the part, but couldn’t really throw, the 2011 Gatorade New Mexico Player of the Year is a smart, tough runner who managed to complete 46% of his passes and run for 322 yards and two scores in his six games of work last season after taking off for 777 yards and eight scores in 2013. Now the 6-4, 242-pound senior will likely take the year off, redshirt, and learn how to become a tight end. Banged up throughout last season, he’ll heal up, learn how to handle the tight end job, and help out the quarterbacks before coming back next year – there’s pro potential with his size and athleticism.

    Head Coach: Bob Davie
    4th year: 11-26
    9th year overall: 46-51
    Schedule
    Sept. 5 Mississippi Valley State
    Sept. 12 Tulsa
    Sept. 19 at Arizona State
    Sept. 26 at Wyoming
    Oct. 3 New Mexico State
    Oct. 10 at Nevada
    Oct. 17 Hawaii
    Oct. 24 at San Jose State
    Oct. 31 OPEN DATE
    Nov. 7 Utah State
    Nov. 14 at Boise State
    Nov. 21 Colorado State
    Nov. 28 Air Force
    Ten Best New Mexico Players
    1. LB Dakota Cox, Jr.
    2. RB Jhurell Pressley, Sr.
    3. DE Nick D’Avanzo, Jr.
    4. RB Teryion Gipson, Jr.
    5. LB Kimmie Carson, Soph.
    6. QB Lamar Jordan, Soph.
    7. S Markell Byrd, Soph.
    8. CB Cranston Jones, Sr.
    9. P/K Zack Rogers, Sr.

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