2014 Record: 4-8 (2-6 Mountain West)
2016 NFL Draft Prospects: running back Jhurell Pressley, wide receiver Carlos Wiggins
It’s been tough sledding for Bob Davie since he accepted New Mexico’s offer to take on one of the worst FBS football programs in the country after the 2011 season. We normally wouldn’t consider winning 11 games in 3 years something to be excited about. However, you need to take into account how bad the three years were under his predecessor Mike Locksley (‘09-’11). Locksley’s teams won a total of 3 games during his two and a half year regime and prolonged the Lobos bowl-less streak that has continued since 2007.
While his name had been placed on coaching hot seat lists in more than one reputable 2015 college football preview, Davie has cultivated a foundation this team can grow from. Something that couldn’t be said under the leadership of Locksley. A coach plagued by allowing multiple program issues off the field to piggyback the troubles he continued to have on it. Baby steps for Davie in Year Three, included winning two conference games for the first time since 2008 while entrenching the school as one of the best at running the football in the nation.
The problem for Davie’s Lobos in have been an inability to supply a steady stream of quality players to build his program. He’s systematically had to rebuild a broken culture and re-develop a recruiting base to fit the mold of his system, running the triple option and playing good defense.
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) July 29, 2015
While it seems he finally has some pieces to work with offensively to continue to establish the run in consecutive years, failing to field even a passable defense is one reason why his job security could be in question by the end of 2015. One need not look further than the Lobos ranking dead last in total defense in each of the last two seasons in conference play. Not exactly the improvement Paul Krebs (New Mexico’s athletic director) would have predicted when he hired the former Notre Dame head coach, known for his stout in defenses two decades earlier.
The game played between the two teams last season in Albuquerque helped forge a young and untested Sun Devils defense and showed Graham and his coaching staff were able to make critical in-game changes. Reflecting on his locker room demeanor, Graham said he became “animated” with his team, leading by 11 points at the half after giving up back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter.
What to look for from the Lobos on offense
2014 S&P+ Offense: 101.7 (55th in BCS)
Percentage of Offensive Yards Returning: 76% (47th in FBS)
Career Starts Offensive Line: 58 (75th in FBS)
2015 Returning Starters Offense: 7
After a successful two year stint coordinating a record breaking rushing offense at Sam Houston State (2010-2011), Bob DeBesse was hired to do much of the same at New Mexico. The results can’t be argued with in terms of putting forth a successful triple option attack as the Lobos have finished in the top five nationally in terms of rushing offense in each of his three seasons in charge. A huge turnaround philosophically from a school who hadn’t produced a 100-yard rusher in a game since late in the 2009 season.
Much like last season, DeBesse will have explosive talent in the backfield (4th in the nation recording 16 plays of 50 yards or more) and he’ll continue to have questions needing answers in terms of fielding a semi-competent passing attack (76 passes completed in 2014). DeBesse could best be considered the polar opposite of Washington State’s Mike Leach in offensive philosophy. Keep in mind, this was a Lobos offense that got to within one score of the Devils at one point just shy of half time during their 2014 contest.
Senior running back Jhurell Pressley returns as the centerpiece of the offense, recording 1,083 yards on 114 carries, not to mention a Mountain West Conference friendly 9.4 yards per carry last season (best by nearly three yards per carry). Needless to say, the Lobos running game was the best in the conference averaging 310.4 yards per game, 3rd best in school history, and fifth best in the country. Finally for New Mexico fans, something to build on.
The struggles at the quarterback position have clearly held this offense from moving to the next level. Quarterbacks Lamar Jordan, Cole Gautsche, David Anaya, and Clayton Mitchem combined for a subpar 7-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season. For perspective, last season ASU senior quarterback Mike Bercovici threw five touchdown passes, in one game, against the Trojans in the team’s JaelMary win at the Coliseum.
Jordan, who completed 7-of-11 passes in the 58-23 loss to the Devils in 2014 will be the incumbent starter going into fall camp, having taken his hits as the part-time starter during his freshman year. But Davie threw fans and the media a curveball when he accepted the transfer of former Washington State quarterback Austin Apodaca. Apodaca passed for over 2,000 yards last season at Mesa Community College. How the former two star pro-style quarterback fits in on this team could help shape 2015 success of the offense.
Along the offensive line, the Lobos will be forced to rebuild as first team 2014 All-Mountain West center LaMar Bratton and his 50 career starts have departed, not to mention right guard Jamal Price who had started each of the past two seasons. But New Mexico will be able to rely on the rest of the two deep returning. This would be a great area of emphasis for the Sun Devil defense to prey on.
Building off their previous game against FBS Cal Poly, the Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham will continue to have a good understanding of how his run defense is taking shape heading into their first conference game against the Trojans the following week. To this point, ASU will have played an explosive Air Raid Aggies offense, followed up by Poly’s option heavy attack. Graham will be smart to have grouped together his planning for for his second and third opponent with minor tweaks based on the scheme.
What to look for from the Lobos on defense
2014 S&P+ Defense: 84.4 (116th in FBS)
2014 Havoc Rate: 0.135 (98th in FBS)
Percentage of Total Tackles Returning: 78% (12th in FBS)
2015 Returning Starters Defense: 7
The problem for Bob Davie’s defense lies not so much in the philosophy, but being able to keep up with the Jones’ in conference. While it’s great to have a fantastic run game, if your defense can’t stop the opposing team from scoring, the odds just won’t be in your favor if you can’t throw the ball to stay in game and score quickly. One has to look no further than the the game against ASU last year, where the defense just ran out of gas by half time. The same could be said against conference opponents Boise State and Colorado State with the defense giving up a combined 118 points.
Long-time fans of New Mexico football will see a familiar 3-3-5 base scheme being introduced by second year defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. It’s the same attack-style defense used by the last successful coach for the Lobos, Rocky Long. And change just might be in order for the 124th ranked total defense allowing an unflattering 519 yards per game, including five different contests in which it allowed the opposing offense to rack up over 500 yards.
The million dollar question, and one that could determine whether or not Davie is still employed by the Lobos in 2016 would then seem to be if Cosgrove can transition the defense to be more effective at getting into it’s opponents backfield and making plays. He’ll lean heavily on junior defensive end Nik D’Avanzo who lead the Lobos in sacks and forced fumbles while finishing third in tackles for loss.
A little luck in the health department would also go a long way for this defense. Not good to begin with, it was forced to make up for only eight players of a total 24 in the two-deep playing in every game. That many injuries however, gave young players a lot of playing time. Mixing in that returning experience with improved recruiting classes can certainly point to future success, but chances are it won’t come at the hands of ASU.
By the third game of the 2015 schedule, the Sun Devils will have more than likely settled on the best five players along its offensive line, especially its two new starters at offensive tackle. But if there still was a concern, it more than likely wouldn’t be against a Lobos defense looking to improve on a havoc rating, among the bottom third in college football last season.
Davie would be smart to follow the conservative approach of doing what his team does best; run the football, try to frustrate the Sun Devil offense, and excel on special teams. The Lobos don’t have the offensive firepower to get into a shootout with a Bercovici-lead offense for the Devils. But Davie does possess an ace up his sleeve in standout kick returner in Carlos Wiggins who is tied for the Mountain West career record for kickoff return touchdowns. Should Wiggins pull off a big return early on, it could certainly quite down a Sun Devil crowd that has witnessed its share of letdowns on special teams.
New Mexico is finally back to being a Top 100 team that returns the bulk of its starters from last season on both sides of the ball and is finally starting to fill in depth among its two deep. But the fact still stands that this team lacks in overall talent, with Wiggins being its lone representative on the Mountain West Preseason All-Conference Team. Not to mention the fact that Bob Davie talked during the Mountain West Media Day that his program is still catching up financially in terms of building an infrastructure around the players in terms of recruiting and coaching.
If Shawn Slocum’s rebuilt special teams unit is able to hold their own however, the Sun Devils should be headed into halftime with a three score lead.
MW Football Media Day 2015: Bob Davie
**Havoc Rating was devised by Bill Connelly – “The percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up). If QB hurries were a reliable stat (at the college level, there is far too much inconsistency in how they are recorded), they would be included here, too.”
**S&P designed by Football Outsiders – “Takes into account efficiency (Success Rates), explosiveness (IsoPPP), and factors related to field position and finishing drives. It is now presented in two forms: the first is a percentile, and the second is an adjusted scoring margin specific for this specific season’s scoring curve.”
**Graphs provided by ASU Devils Den stats guru Gary Doran**