Disciplined defense key in stopping New Mexico’s option offense

Justin Michael

Colorado State football is 3-0 in Mountain West play for the first time since 2002 and with five wins on the season, the Rams are one victory away from being bowl eligible for a fifth consecutive season. However, if CSU wants to punch its ticket to the postseason this week, it is going to take a much more sound performance defensively than last week’s matchup with Nevada. 

Nevada tight end Reagan Roberson gets brought down just short of the end zone by CSU safety Jake Schlager during the 2017 homecoming game. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)
Nevada tight end Reagan Roberson gets brought down just short of the end zone by CSU safety Jake Schlager during the 2017 homecoming game. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

Coming off a game where the CSU defense gave up 564 yards of total offense, 508 of which came through the air, and 42 points, the Rams will have to rebound in a big way against the high-powered option attack of New Mexico.

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While the Lobos ground and pound attack presents a much different threat than the vertical Wolfpack offense, the goal remains the same and that is eliminating the big play. It has been a point of emphasis for the coaching staff all season and was a huge factor in Nevada’s ability to stay in the game last weekend.

Despite finding a way to win the game, CSU’s defense gave up passing touchdowns of 55, 57 and 65 yards. If the Rams are going to come away with a road victory Friday night, eliminating these explosive plays will be key.

After Tuesday’s practice, head coach Mike Bobo explained that facing an option offense like New Mexico is difficult because it forces people to play disciplined and not abandon their assignments. He also explained that while the Rams have an athletic group of backs on offense, the scout team is only able to do so much in preparation.

“It’s something that those kids do not do a lot of, “ Bobo said. “We really don’t incorporate any kind of option. We’ll do some zone-read, which has some similarities…There’s really no carryover for this. As much as they motion the backs in the backfield (and) use three backs stacked behind each other, so the timing of it we can never get 100 percent right. But we’ll try to get the look as close as we can.”

Coming into the matchup, UNM is averaging 240 rushing yards per game, but the Lobos are coming off a 38-0 loss to Fresno State. In the game, the Lobos were held to just 110 yards rushing. 

The Rams will look to bring a similar approach to stopping New Mexico head coach Bobo Davie’s rushing offense Friday night, but they recognize the rarity of holding an option offense under the century mark. Where Bobo and company definitely do not want to get beat is through the air.

Option offenses tend to have some of the highest single-play averages for passing offense because they have the ability to catch opposing defenses by surprise.

“If you watch any option team they are going to get yards running the option,” Bobo said. “They get you with that four, six, seven (yards) and then they might have an explosive run. But when they throw the ball, I hold my breath more when an option team throws their ball because of what you’re doing defensively.”

Bobo explained that all of the defenders are tasked with an assignment so eye discipline is crucial in identifying situations where the Lobos might look to take a shot deep down the field. Simple things like identifying what the tackle or guard is doing before the snap can often be the difference in whether a defender is in position or not.

“They’re not running quick passes that are like runs like we do sometimes,” Bobo said. “When they throw the ball, they’re throwing it downfield for a shot. So you’ve gotta do a good job of having your eyes in the right spot.”

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CSU last faced New Mexico in November of 2016. The Rams defeated the Lobos 49-31 in the final game played at Hughes Stadium. 

Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached by email at jmichael@collegian.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.