Rutgers hosts New Mexico team with unique approach on either side of ball
Exotic isn’t the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Albuquerque, New Mexico — the largest city in the Cactus State known more for the desert scenes in Breaking Bad and hosting the world’s most popular hot air balloon festival than as a vacation destination.
But exotic was precisely the word used by Rutgers head football coach Chris Ash to describe the New Mexico football team’s style of play on the defensive side of the ball, one of the many compliments he showered his team’s next opponent with following last Saturday’s win over Howard.
“We have a real game next weekend,” he said following his first win as a head coach, a 52-14 comeback over the Bison. “They do a lot of exotic things on defense that create problems. So this is a real football team and a real test for us next week.”
The Lobos (1-1) bring a 3-4 base defense to the Banks for this Saturday’s matchup with the Scarlet Knights (1-1), a different approach the offense must adjust to as they continue to adapt to the power spread offense.
“I’ve seen a quite bit of film. They’re definitely a physical team,” said senior wide receiver Andre Patton. “They definitely have a lot of leadership, a lot of older guys that have experience in the game, so we’re definitely going to be going up against a good team and we just have to go and play with the best we got.”
The defense is one of the many things that Bob Davies’ team does differently than most teams in college football.
New Mexico is typically known for its exotic qualities on the offensive side of the ball, but Ash went with the word unique to describe its triple-option attack. The offense is a variation of the one run by the academy schools, only this one is operates out of the pistol formation rather than the traditional wishbone run by Army and Navy.
A majority of the Knights listed as starters on defense for the contest have experience playing at least one of the academy schools in their careers in Piscataway, but though the offenses are similar in name, they’re much different in practice, Ash said.
Comparing the Lobos’ offense to that of Army would be similar to assuming that playing the Knights’ run-first power spread would prepare a team to face the air-raid style offense of Mike Leach’s Washington State.
“They’re a triple-option team, but they’re also committed enough to throwing the football that they do a good job of it and can do it when they need to or probably just when they want to,” said defensive coordinator Jay Niemann. “So it’s a better passing attack than what you see with a traditional, what you would refer to as the old wishbone kind of an offense. And it's a more diverse run game. They have a very diverse run game, so get stretched in the pass game and the run game makes it really hard to defend.”
New Mexico can throw the ball, but where it shines is in the run game.
The Lobos have gained 649 yards rushing in their first two games, scoring eight touchdowns in the process.
Half of those scores and a quarter of the yards were gathered by Teriyon Gipson, who will miss the game Saturday due to sustaining a concussion in the final minutes of last week’s loss to New Mexico State.
Without its biggest threat in the run game, New Mexico will still have plenty of weapons on the ground, with second leading rusher Tyrone Owens and quarterback Austin Apodaca still available, along with redzone threat Richard McQuarley, who has three rushing touchdowns in just 18 carries.
The loss of Gipson is a boost for Rutgers as it plays its final non-conference game ahead of a gauntlet of top teams as it enters its Big Ten schedule
After hosting the Lobos, the Knights welcome an Iowa team that won the Big Ten West division and went 12-1 last season, then travel to Columbus to take on No. 4 Ohio State at the Shoe and then return back home to host a No. 5 Michigan team much improved from the one they defeated for their first Big Ten win in 2014.
But before going through one of the toughest three-game stretches any team will face this season, Ash and company are focused on going through the unique and exotic challenges presented by New Mexico.
“Every game is tough. It’s not just the Big Ten schedule, every game’s tough,” Ash told reporters Thursday. “Every game is important to win and every game’s a championship game, and that’s the way we have to prepare. That’s the way we’re practicing and that’s the way we’re approaching this ... week, (and) we’ll approach 10 weeks from now. We’re in the improvement phase and every detail is important, every game is important, and we need to go out and perform to the best of our ability.”