This weekend the key to New Mexico's chance of winning depends on if the third best defense for passing yards allowed in the nation -- yes against Mississippi Valley State -- can slow down the fifth best passing offense in the nation against Tulsa. Tulsa's quarterback Dane Evans threw for 424 yards last week in a thrilling 47-44 overtime victory over Florida Atlantic University.
Evans's primary targets were wide receivers Keevan Lucas (10 receptions) and Keyarris Garrett (five receptions), who had 193 receiving yards and 163 yards, respectively. For Lucas, his weekend was good enough to earn him AAC player of the week honors.
So how can the Lobos defense slow down Tulsa's attack?
In his post-game press conference on Saturday night, Lobos head coach Bob Davie acknowledged that Tulsa's offense is up-tempo and that they have two big receivers. As I mentioned above, both of these guys had a field day on Florida Atlantic and prove capable of making big plays.
Their size and speed should present issues for New Mexico's secondary which was largely untested last week. Indeed, Lucas is a manageable 5'10'' and 198 pounds, but is agile and quick. I expect cornerback Cranston Jones to cover him a lot throughout the game as Jones showed a knack last week to stick with his man and to recover quickly when he did get burned. Garrett, on the other hand, comes in at 6'4'' and 221 pounds.
That should give Garrett a good four to five inches over UNM's cornerbacks and over-the-top throws could abound. In order to minimize height and speed advantages, the defensive line must put pressure on Evans as they did last week with MSVU's Dontrine Scott and Quant Peterson. Behind Nik D'Avanzo, the Lobos sacked Scott and Peterson six times for minus 45 yards while forcing two fumbles and an interception.
Pressuring Evans will cause hurried throws that could disrupt the flow of the Golden Hurricanes' offense, so it will be interesting to see how often Davie brings the blitz thereby exposing the secondary.
Make no mistake about it, Tulsa's offense is predicated on its passing game, particularly quick ten yard passes here and there. The Lobos secondary will need to be leery of giving up the big play in their efforts to stop the quick route. Expect to see a healthy dose of nickel packages.
Tulsa runs the ball just enough to keep defenses honest. D'Angelo Brewer and Zack Langer are the main threats here, but look for Lucas to get a rush or two in an attempt at a big play. UNM's speed-over-size approach on defense should be useful in keeping the run game under control.
Though the focus of this article is New Mexico's defense versus Tulsa's offense, perhaps one of UNM's best strategies to contain Tulsa's pass offense will be for their offense to sustain long, time-consuming drives that keeps Evans, Garrett, and Lucas off the field. New Mexico's run game was absolutely superb against MSVU and they will attempt to establish it again this Saturday. Time of possession will be a result of whether they do so or not.
In short, Tulsa's passing game will tell us if New Mexico's defense last week was sublime because of their own growth or because of MSVU's offensive ineffectiveness.