Tomorrow is no doubt a big game for Rutgers football and an opportunity to gain confidence ahead of the start of Big Ten conference play. However, New Mexico is no slouch, as they finished 2015 with a 7-6 record and a bowl appearance. It’s true they suffered a bad loss last weekend to in-state rival New Mexico State and are missing two of their best players for the Rutgers game. Even so, the triple option and strong running game of the Lobos, currently ranked 7th in the nation, should pose a big test for the Rutgers defense. I was fortunate to trade questions with the managing editor of the Mountain West Connection, the SB Nation site for all of the Mountain West Conference. Jeremy Mauss was nice enough to take time to answer my questions regarding New Mexico and what we should look for in tomorrow’s game.
To start, former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie has seemingly done a great job with the program at New Mexico, culminating in a bowl berth last season. What type of situation did he walk into and how has he turned things around? How well liked is he by the fan base?
This is not an exaggeration but former coach Mike Locksley drove this team into the ground and they were the laughing stock in all of college football and last just over two years and had a record of 2-26 while not having very many games being all that close. Everyone knew this was a massive rebuild and would take a few years to even get to respectability and it was a shock that Bob Davie would return to coaching after spending a decade away from coaching to the mess that was New Mexico.
In the first year Davie doubled the win total that Locksley was able to achieve in 28 games, and a lot of it was making good hires and going with a unique offense which is a run-based option attack but the formations are not similar. They will do pistol, diamond or have a fullback and two tailbacks under center. That offense has worked wonders and the first sign of a turn around was challenging Boise State in his first year where it was a 32-29 game and that trend continued with New Mexico upsetting Boise State on their blue field in 2015 and nearly winning the division.
This turnaround is nothing short of amazing and he is very much beloved in town.
New Mexico is coming off a 1 point, stomach punch loss to in-state rival New Mexico State. The Lobos were favored after coming off their bowl season a year ago and comfortable win in week 1. What happened on Saturday?
This was one of the biggest shockers within the Mountain West. Injuries are part of the reason with running back Teriyon Gipson leaving the game with a concussion as well as losing linebacker Dakota Cox, also with concussion concerns. The Lobos were ahead most of the game and the New Mexico defense is not great so even bad teams can score points like New Mexico State did, but the big difference was a late interception by Lobos QB Austin Apodaca which New Mexico State turned that into a game-winning touchdown.
New Mexico runs the option and is currently ranked 7th in the country in total rushing yards. Please give Rutgers fans a description of the type of option offense they run and which key players to look out for?
This is a very unique run-option attack which has numerous formations. They may run pistol, the diamond, under center with a fullback and two backs or they may go in a two-back set under center. New Mexico might run the exact same play out of any of those formations so while there are different sets the actual plays are not all that different. This offense is known for big plays but that takes a step back with Teryion Gipson out for this game. There are others who will step up like Tyrone Owens who led the Lobos in rushing last week.
New Mexico wants to run an up-tempo pace but nothing absurd like Washington State or Oregon but they want to move in a hurry or at least line up in a hurry. One change a bit to this offense is that here is somewhat of a passing game with Austin Apodaca and that makes defenses unable to key in on the ground game exclusively. This add will help New Mexico keep drives alive when the are in longer down and distance situations with a legitimate passing game.
What type of defense does New Mexico run and what are some key players to be aware of?
Dakota Cox was the key player and led the Lobos and his presence will be missed as leads the team in tackles with 20 and the only interception so far this year. The scheme they run is a 4-2-5 and with that scheme not used as often so that allows for a mix and match of formations and that can help mask some of the inefficiencies. Linebacker Kimmie Carson has 14 tackles and can get to to the backfield with a modest 1.5 tackles for a loss. With this 4-2-5 the defensive backs help in the ground game and DB Daniel Henry helps a lot in the ground game and is tied for second with tackles.
How good are the special teams units of New Mexico and please list any key players to watch for?
Jason Sanders is a solid kicker has not missed a kick this year and last year missed three kicks but two of those were from 40-plus yards, but one of his kicks was over 40 yards. The kick return takes a hit as Gipson is out for this game and his replacement is expected to be backup running game Daryl Chestnut and he has no returns this year.
What were the expectations for New Mexico this season and in your opinion, how have they looked so far in just two games?
Losing to New Mexico State was not expected and a bad loss, and there were expectations of them competing for at the least the Mountain Division title as they did last year. The defense had a good number of returning players and the goal was for them to be just average and that would be an improvement and be good enough for them to compete.
Two weeks in and playing an FCS team and New Mexico State it is hard to tell, but the defense is not there as they allowed 32 points to New Mexico State.
How well do New Mexico fans travel and any idea how much of a presence Rutgers fans should expect on Saturday?
They travel for hoops a lot more but not so much for football. There might be a few hundred who travel due to playing a different opponent and some may make a trip out of it to hang out in New York City for the weekend.
What is your prediction for the game?
If New Mexico had Teryion Gipson and Dakota Cox for this game then I would be all over the Lobos to win outright but without those two players it will be difficult to get the win. This game should be close because the New Mexico will be able to move the ball but ultimately Rutgers will get the win. Now, this game is more of a toss up and I'll be leaning to Rutgers getting a close win.
Thanks again to Jeremy for answering my questions regarding New Mexico and for more on the Lobos and the rest of their conference, visit the Mountain West Connection. To read my answers to Jeremy’s questions about Rutgers, click here.