Wyoming looks to slow down New Mexico offense
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming’s defense didn’t just have a bad game last season at New Mexico. It had the worst game.
The Lobos’ 568 rushing yards were the most of any Football Bowl Subdivision team in any game last year. No Wyoming defense had ever allowed that many rushing yards in a single game.
“It was pretty tough,” safety Marcus Epps said. “We just couldn’t stop them. It didn’t matter what we were in, we weren’t holding them. They were able to do whatever they wanted to do. So, it was definitely one of the toughest games that I’ve been part of.”
For comparison, it took Wyoming’s offense six games this season before it rushed for 568 combined yards.
“I don’t know if we were totally prepared,” Epps said. “I don’t think we had a good feeling all week, and then obviously it showed in the game.”
There have been a few changes since that game as Wyoming and New Mexico prepare to face off Saturday at War Memorial Stadium. For one, Wyoming’s defensive coordinator.
“They do so many different things to try to mess you up formationally,” first-year Wyoming defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton said. “What is this formation exactly and then how do we fit it? And then on top of that, they do a really good job isolating people.”
The Lobos’ triple-option attack led the nation in rushing yards per game last season.
“When you play the option, you have to have someone for dive, quarterback and pitch, but on top of that, they use all your players because their quarterbacks are such a threat,” Hazelton told the Casper Star-Tribune . “So as you go down the line, ’OK, we tackled the dive. Now the quarterback’s got the ball. OK, we made him pitch it. Now you just get in so many space plays.
“You’re in the wide side of the field, you’ve got all the room in the world, and then all of a sudden it’s a one-on-one tackle, and if we miss that tackle, it could turn into a big play. Even on the dive, because generally where we play defense, we’ve got one or two safeties back there hanging out, and to be able to defend all the gaps plus the quarterback and the pitch, you have to use them all.
“It’s a challenge for a defense to get in a situation where you say, ‘OK, if a guy misses a tackle on a dive, they could split you and go a long way.’”
Wyoming beat an option team earlier in this year in Gardner-Webb. The Football Bowl Subdivision’s team has some similarities with New Mexico’s attack, and Wyoming held the Runnin’ Bulldogs to 173 rushing yards.
“There’s some similarities,” Hazelton said. “There’s a few differences, but some similarities, and there’s good and bad in having that game. We had a chance to kind of work out some kinks in some of the things we did or change some stuff that we didn’t like in that game. And they get a chance to see some of the plan, too, so it’s a give and take.”
This year, the Cowboys will have to worry about the pass as well, thanks to freshman Tevaka Tuioti.
“He actually came on a visit here,” Epps said. “Just watching him, he throws the ball pretty good. He puts it on the money. So it definitely gives another element that we have to defend, whereas before we weren’t really too worried about the pass.”
New Mexico has already thrown the ball 144 times this season, after throwing a total of 179 times in 2016.
“The ability to throw always adds another dimension, because now you’ve got to be able to defend real route combinations,” Hazelton said, “where before it seemed like they were, ‘Hey, we’re run, run, run, take a shot. And it’s all vertical gains.’”
New Mexico was the first conference offense Wyoming began preparing for in fall camp.
“I think that we’re going to have a good game plan this year,” Epps said. “We have full faith in Coach Haze and the rest of the defensive staff that they’re going to put us in the best possible position to succeed.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com