BOISE — New Mexico attempted 35 passes per game last season. In coach Bob Davie’s first season in Albuquerque, the Lobos are throwing 14 per game.
When the former Notre Dame coach took over this past spring, he implemented an offensive scheme quite a bit different from the quick-passing system the Lobos had used the previous three seasons.
New Mexico is running the option —and doing a pretty good job of it — heading into Saturday’s home game against No. 24 Boise State, ranking 21st overall in rushing offense at 234.8 yards per game.
“You don’t really see it much anymore, so it’s always a challenge,” Boise State defensive tackle Mike Atkinson said. “You have to be focused on your assignment, make sure you don’t get caught peeking.”
Davie and his staff have used various looks for the option attack, often lining up in the Nevada-type Pistol formation, utilizing the triple option, while also using Wildcat formations and speed options.
The result has been two 300-plus yard games (both wins) and 939 yards on the ground thus far. The Lobos had 1,358 yards on the ground all of last season, finishing 103rd nationally.
“I think the option-style offense is the great equalizer,” Davie said.
What also has made the option offense successful for the Lobos is an ability to get multiple ball carriers involved.
Five Lobos have at least 14 carries and 86 yards rushing so far, led by junior Kasey Carrier’s 192 yards on 37 carries. Carrier ran for a career-high 129 yards in New Mexico’s 27-14 win over New Mexico State last Saturday. A high school teammate of Boise State’s Sam Ukwuachu, Carrier ran for a team-high 373 yards in 2010, but sat out last season with an ankle injury.
“It’s really tough to have to sit and watch and see our team struggle, knowing you can’t help,” Carrier said. “So, to go out and have my best game and help us beat our rival was pretty special.”
Going from a spread offense that averaged 3.4 yards per carry to one that is getting just more than 5.0 yards per carry seems to be a pretty drastic change, but Carrier said the transition was not too difficult.
“It’s definitely a lot different,” he said. “But we have some good offensive linemen, and all our running backs and quarterbacks are just good football players. We can adapt. It took a little getting used to, but I think we picked it up quickly. Of course, as a running back, I love it.”
With loving the ground game, the Lobos also are loving keeping the ball away from opposing offenses. The ground-centric offense has averaged 31 minutes, 44 seconds of possession per game, including a 38:15-21:45 advantage in its win last Saturday.
“It’s going to be really tough,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “... They hold the ball from you. You don’t get a lot of possessions. It’s very awkward. You don’t see it a lot.”
Though the Broncos have yielded just 188 yards on the ground in their last two games combined, they opened against a run-centric team, and Michigan State ran for 213 yards in that contest. It’s safe to say the red-hot Boise State defense wants to show it can stop a team completely committed to the run.
“Definitely — can’t wait,” Atkinson said.