New Mexico football Coach Mike Sheppard thinks he knows how to stop the BYU offense.
He just isn't certain he has the players to do it.Sheppard has been wrong before. Last week he thought his team was ready to bounce back from a disappointing three-point loss to Wyoming and play well against Colorado State. Instead, the Lobos were blown out by the Rams, 47-7.
"We were coaching against that (a letdown) all week," Sheppard said. "There were a whole lot of things we did as a staff to eliminate it."
Whatever they did, it didn't work. But it's not a letdown Sheppard is worried about today at 1:30 p.m. in Cougar
Stadium. What concerns him is a BYU passing game he rates as "No. 1 in the country."
Sheppard took the first step toward suppressing the BYU offense back in February, when he hired Greg Newhouse as defensive coordinator. Newhouse had just concluded his second season as defensive secondary coach at Hawaii, where for two years in a row his units had caused BYU all sorts of distress.
"They (Hawaii) stopped them pretty fair the past couple of years, and I think he (Newhouse) knows how to do it," Sheppard said. "Now whether we can accomplish his plan is another thing."
For today's game, Sheppard, Newhouse and the rest of the Lobo staff devised a four-point plan to beat BYU:
1. Vary the defense. "You have to make him (BYU quarterback Ty Detmer) guess, make him confused, create some indecision," said UNM assistant coach Jeff Reinbold. This probably means blitzing on nearly every down, sometimes with linebackers, sometimes with safeties, sometimes with everyone. Since Detmer's greatest asset is his ability to read defenses, the Lobos will try to make the defense unreadable. "You can't let their offense get a total feel for what you're doing," said Sheppard.
Sheppard and his staff learned something from watching film of the BYU-Washington State game. WSU led that game 29-7 at the half before Detmer found holes in the defense and led BYU to a 50-36 win. "You can't stay with one thing, as Washington State did," Reinbold said. "BYU adjusted to that in the second half, and that's why they won."
Don't interpret this as meaning that the New Mexico coaches don't think highly of Detmer. "He's special," Sheppard said of the Heisman Trophy candidate. "We've seen some good quarterbacks this year, but we haven't seen anything like him."
2. Re-route the receivers. Sheppard says BYU has the "most disciplined pass offense you'd ever want to see" with receivers who lack great speed but "get open and catch everything within catching distance." To combat that, the Lobos will bump the receivers at the line of scrimmage, slowing them and forcing them to run different routes than planned. Again, the ultimate goal will be to confuse Detmer.
3. Stop the run, force the pass. This seems as if it would play right into the hands of the pass-happy Cougars, but it's a tactic Oregon used to beat BYU. Of course, Oregon was playing at home in a stiff wind and had a good secondary. The Lobos are on the road and their secondary has been the weak point of their defense. "Right now, pass defense hasn't been something we have been too great at," Sheppard says.
An important facet of this step, of course, is the pass rush. New Mexico has recorded 34 sacks this season, and the coaches probably figure that if they can make Detmer hurry his passes, it won't matter as much if the secondary is weak. How well that pass rush performs against BYU's veteran offensive line is the key to this part of the plan.
4. Move the ball on offense. "The only way we can contain them is to keep their offense off the field," Reinbold said. "We're a great defense when we aren't playing." The Lobos have had trouble moving the ball recently as junior quarterback Jeremy Leach has slumped. The Lobo running game can't be expected to generate big yards against BYU's rushing defense, which is No. 1 in the WAC, so Leach needs to complete some passes for this plan to work. Last year against BYU, Leach completed only 16 of 44.
Regardless, the Lobo coaches say their team isn't panicked by the thought of playing against 7th-ranked BYU. With a 2-6 record, even a respecatbly close loss would be a victory of sorts for them.
"I don't think there's any reason to be intimidated," Reinbold said. "We have everything to gain and nothing to lose."