The 2010 New Mexico defense was one of the worst in the country. They were 119th in total defense, 120th in the in rushing defense (last by the way) 57th in pass defense and last in the nation in scoring defense at 44.3 per game. So, getting worse seems highly unlikely.
The 2011 defense is full of juniors and seniors so the Lobos are full of experienced players and the hope is that the experience will help the 2011 defense be close to average. The Lobos did lose one key player in former four-star recruit Calvin Smith who decided to transfer and go to Purdue; I still have no idea how head coach Mike Locksley got him to New Mexico in the first place.
The star on the defense is senior linebacker Carmen Messina who recorded 116 tackles with six for a loss as a junior and that was actually a step down from his sophomore campaign where he had 162 tackles. Messina is a two-time all-Mountain West player and most likely soon to be three-time is an excellent open field tackler and has the speed to keep on spread attack offenses.
The linebacking group is the best for the Lobos and an underrated one is Joe Stoner who is undersized at 5-feet-10-inches and 224 pounds, but he can lay a hit on opposing running backs. He had only 67 tackles but he also had a pick, forced four fumbles and recovered three of them.
The third starting linebacker is Spencer Merritt, well technically he is the third starter because the Lobos still run the 4-2-5 that Rocky Long ran there for so long, but they are also mixing in a 3-4 at times and that is where Merritt will see the field most. Merritt has 12 games of starting experience and last year was fourth on the team in tackles with 63 tackles, 6.5 for a loss and broke up seven passes. Just like the other linebackers he makes plays and has decent stats, but the total defense is lacking.
The secondary should be the best unit in 2011 and they will be much improved from their 2010 stats. For the first time in the 4-2-5 defense the Lobos will the players to actually run it. They return four starters so the experience is there which should lead to improvement. The secondary wasn't terrible last year, but part of that could be due to teams running the ball in the second half once a lead was secured.
The secondary only had four interceptions last year and that number must improve if they want to hold teams below 40 points per game. The secondary did have a 100-tackler in Bubba Forrest, but that usually means that he was asked to play as a pseudo-linebacker in the 4-2-5 defense and he had to make tackles when running backs go to the third level of the defense.
Anthony Hooks is the best cover corner the team has and will be matched up against the opposing teams best wide receiver. Hooks can cover well but he is not the best at getting to the ball, last year he had no picks and only three broken up passes. He can hit and dislodge the ball from the receiver, but Hooks needs to make more plays toward the ball.
The defensive line is where the Lobos struggled the most last year on defense. They were 113th in the nation in sacks with only 11 on the year and 108th in tackles for loss with 55. The line needs to get some kind of pressure on the quarterback to give the secondary a chance. With no pressure with quarterback can just hang out and scan all of his options and there is only so much time a defensive back has to cover a player before one of the five eventually gets open.
Jaymar Latchison is the leader of the defensive line. He plays right end and had 49 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and blocked two kicks. He is the anchor for this line and was the only Lobo to consistently get some pressure into the backfield. Latchison can not do it all alone he needs other players to step up and bring at least the same type of pressure to the quarterback. One player that has promise is Jacori Green but is expected to backup Latchison. Green has very little experience but he has a motor and is a pure pass rusher, and that is exactly what the Lobos need on the defensive line.
The experience is there for this defense and while it is hard to come up with positives for this defense the worst I can say that they have to better than last year. Their linebacking corp is a real strength and their secondary has the players to run the 4-2-5 defense. During camp the defense has been praised and has been shutting down the Lobo offense so that is always a positive and maybe if the defense can gain some confidence that could go a long way in becoming a better defense in 2011.