Piston vs. odd ‘D’
Appeal Sports Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico’s oddball 3-3-5 defense, which includes complicated blitz packages, has given opposing teams fits all season.
Nevada certainly doesn’t want to be added to that list of frustrated teams.
“They have an outstanding defense,” Nevada football coach Chris Ault said Friday afternoon as his team prepared for today’s’ second annual New Mexico Bowl (1:30 p.m., ESPN). “Any time you can go to Arizona and beat them there… Rocky (Long, UNM coach) is known for that defense.
“We really needed the full 2 1/2 weeks of practice to prepare. We’ve practiced hard and practiced well.”
Blitzing will put tremendous pressure on Nevada’s talented offensive line, tight ends and running backs to keep freshman quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who passed for 2,038 yards and 19 TDs, upright.
Tight end Adam Bishop said that New Mexico’s scheme could force Nevada to adjust its pass protection.
“It depends on the play,” Bishop said. “At times, backs and tight end will be in for extra protection.”
Simply put, it will come down to execution. There is bound to be a little rust from not having played a game for three weeks. According to reports, New Mexico’s defense hasn’t fared real well in practice against the Pack’s pistol offense.
When Long talks about stopping Nevada’s pistol offense, you aren’t sure he’s being serious or trying to lull the Pack into a false sense of security. He said that even the scout team was moving the ball well against his first-team defense.
“I compare this with playing against the triple option,” Long said. “It’s unique. You don’t see it all the time. It’s the first time we’ve played against it.
“I’m sure they run it better than our scout team does. We’re only giving up one or two big plays (in practice) instead of four or five.”
Stopping Nevada means stopping the running game, which teams haven’t done thus far. Nevada led the WAC in rushing, and Luke Lippincott rushed for 1,380 yards and 15 TDs, and Kaepernick added 566 yards and six scores.
“They had four games over 600 yards,” said Osia Lewis, the Lobos’ offensive coordinator. “They run the ball so well. Luke Lippincott runs hard, and they will be difficult to defend. The quarterback is really good. I think he runs it better than he throws it. They execute well.”
“Obviously he can do a lot with his feet,” New Mexico linebacker Cody Kase said. “We have to be disciplined in our pass rush and make it tough for him.”
New Mexico entered the game with one of the most balanced offenses, but Rodney Ferguson, who gained 1,177 yards on the ground, was declared academically ineligible.
Certainly a big blow for the Lobos, but Ault doesn’t expect to see the Lobos change much on offense with Paul Baker operating at tailback instead of Ferguson.
“I know they lost their running back,” Ault said. “If anything, they might throw it a little more.
“I don’t think you adjust your defense. Ferguson was more of a downhill runner; a strong guy. They have an opportunity to put a shake and bake guy in there.”
And, Long has plenty of confidence in Baker.
“Paul has been running the same plays, he just hasn’t carried the ball as much as Rodney,” Long said. “He’ll be showing everybody what we already know.”
“Paul gives us a little more speed,” wide receiver Travis Brown said. “Paul is a little more shifty; maybe a little better pass receiver.”
If the Lobos do decide to pass more, sophomore quarterback Donovan Porterie will be equal to the task. He threw for 2,652 yards and 13 scores, though his production tailed off a bit toward the end of the season.
He has two big targets to throw to in all-conference receivers Marcus Smith (86 catches, 1,039 yards) and Travis Brown (69-911).
“I feel like we can take advantage of every team (we play),” Brown said. “We know the opposition well enough.”
“They have two talented receivers,” Nevada defensive coordinator Ken Wilson said. “They catch a lot of balls underneath and try to make big plays, and they have been successful. They have enough speed to hurt you vertically.”
It will be a test for Nevada cornerbacks Devon Wilson, Paul Pratt and Kenny Viser, who have struggled at times.
Nevada’s defense has come around in recent weeks, especially against the run. The Pack got a break when Josh Mauga, who was injured against Utah State, was cleared to return to action. Mauga was one of the leading tacklers in the nation when he was injured.
And another factor in this game is that Nevada wants to show its fans and the rest of the country that it is a much better team than its 6-6 record indicates and is worthy of a bowl appearance.
“We definitely want to end the season with a winning record, and we have to win to do that,” Lippincott said.
Added Bishop, “We have a chance to play another game and hopefully get a win out of it. We are a better team than our record indicates. We’ve lost some close games that I felt we should have won.”