2011 New Mexico Preview – Defense

Posted Jun 9, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - New Mexico Lobo Defense

New Mexico Lobos

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The defense should've been far better than it was. It improved as the season went on, but it went from getting bombed on through the air over the first half of the year to getting steamrolled over in the second half. There's no excuse to not be far better with nine returning starters, good depth, and a new 4-2-5 alignment that maximizes the talent and experience at safety. Linebacker Carmen Messina should be an all-star, and Reggie Ellis, Ugo Uzodinma, and Calvin Smith are BCS-level tackles who have to start playing up to their talent level. After finishing 120th in the nation in scoring defense, dead last in run defense, and 119th in the nation in total defense, there's nowhere to go but up.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Carmen Messina, 115
Sacks: Jaymar Latchison, 2
Interceptions: Bubba Forrest, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Carmen Messina
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Joe Harris
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Calvin Smith
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Ugo Uzodinma
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Messina, 2) S Bubba Forrest, 3) LB Joe Stoner
Strength of the defense: Experience, Tackling Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive front turned in an awful season. The Lobos finished 113th in the nation in sacks with just 11, and wasn't must better in tackles for loss coming up with a mere 55. The run defense was a bigger issue finishing last in the nation. Gone are two of the main starters, not including Johnathan Rainey, the team's best pass rusher who was knocked out halfway through the season. Any production from the front four will be an upgrade.

Senior Jaymar Latchison is the best player on the line and one of the keys to the defensive front. He started every game at right end and finished with 49 tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss, and he also blocked two kicks. At 6-3 and 265 pounds he has excellent size and terrific quickness, but he needs to do even more after struggling to get into the backfield on a regular basis. With his tools and his personality, he'll be the leader up front. He'll be backed up by 6-3, 250-pound sophomore Jacori Greer, a fast, linebacker-sized option who made two tackles and a sack in his limited time. He's a pure pass rusher.

Working on the other side of Latchison will be Joe Harris, a 6-2, 222-pound junior who'll play a sort of hybrid role as a linebacker and pass rushing end. With tremendous speed and good strength for his size, he's small but athletic, and now he's over a knee injury that knocked him out a few years ago. He needs to do more after making 15 tackles with two tackles for loss as a key reserve, while 6-3, 250-pound junior Jake Carr brings more size. He made 23 tackles as a backup, but considering he's known as a pass rusher he needs to start making big plays.

6-4, 280-pound junior Ugo Uzodinma started every game but one last year finishing with 27 tackles with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. The transfer from Illinois followed head coach Mike Locksley to Albuquerque after being a top recruit for the Illini. He has the size and the talent to be a prototype tackle to work around, but he has to be a star for a line that did absolutely nothing against the run and needs to do more as an interior pass rusher. He'll combine with 6-3, 260-pound senior Brett Kennedy got a long look at the starting job this offseason and has the feistiness to hold his own. Way tough for his size, he made 16 tackles as a reserve with two fumble recoveries.

6-2, 285-pound junior Reggie Ellis transferred from Illinois where he was a big-time recruit who had his choices of top places to go. Tough, fast, and with a great motor, he has the skills to become a terrific defensive presence, but he only made 14 tackles in his time. He started against Utah, but he still hasn't blossomed into the player he's been expected to be. He'll combine with sophomore Calvin Smith, who at 6-3 and 273 pounds he has decent size and can move. After seeing time as a true freshman making 13 tackles with a sack, it's time to show off the talent that made him such a big-time recruit.

Watch Out For … Smith. The Florida native was wanted by Alabama, Florida, Florida State, and just about every other big name, but he shockingly picked New Mexico last year. After showing a little bit of promise and potential, now he has to show what all the fuss was about.
Strength: Talented tackles. Smith could've gone anywhere and Ellis was a great recruit for Illinois. At any one time, the Lobos could have a starting Big Ten defensive interior with Uzodinma in the mix, too.
Weakness: Playing football. New Mexico finished dead last in the nation in run defense and gave up 38 touchdowns and came up with a mere 11 sacks. The line was awful last year and has nowhere to go but up.
Outlook: There's no excuse for the line to not be decent. The tackles are too talented for the run defense to continue to be so bad, and Latchison is too good an end for the pass rush to be so miserable. Now the production has to start coming and everyone has to start playing up to their prep hype.
Unit Rating: 5


State of the Unit: With three regular starters returning for two spots, the linebackers should be solid and should put up a ton of big numbers. Three of the top four tackles from last year are in the 2011 UNM corps, but the stats have to translate into better production for the defense. Overall, more play have to be made at the point of attack.

The star of the defense, and the team, is tackling machine Carmen Messina, a big-hitting 6-2, 222-pound veteran who led the team with 115 tackles with a sack and six tackles for loss, but his season was a bit of a disappointment after making 162 stops as a sophomore. Steady, tough, and a sure-thing when it comes to make an open-field stop, he's great against the spread and option teams and is smart enough to sniff out plays and get to the ball. While he plays bigger than his size, and he holds up well, the two-time Mountain West leader in tackles knows what he's doing.

Working next to Messina is junior Joe Stoner, a great tackler who doesn't get any publicity but was able to come up with 67 tackles with a pick, three fumble recoveries, and four forced fumbles. He's undersized at 5-10 and 224 pounds, but he's a huge hitter who held up well and started in every game. A blow-him-up popper, he's devastating when he's on the move. He'll be backed up by freshman Javarie Johnson, a transfer from Maryland who can fly all over the field and will make a huge instant impact. He's built like a safety at 6-3 and 210 pounds, and he moves like one.

Messina isn't going to move out of a starting spot, but junior Spencer Merritt is going to see time in the system if the defense works in a 4-3. A backup now, he has 12 games of starting experience after last year and finished fourth on the team with 63 tackles with 6.5 tackles for loss and seven broken up passes. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, he's defensive back-sized but he's fast and is always around the ball. Also in the mix is sophomore Dallas Bollema, a decent-sized 6-2, 225-pound prospect who made 39 tackles as a true freshman. Smart and active, he'll be a top tackler whenever he becomes a starter.

Watch Out For … Bollema. It's a crowded group to try to get through in the new system, and it'll be tough for Bollema to push his way through for time, but any time he's on the field he'll make a ton of plays. Mostly he'll be a special teamer, but he'll make an impact.
Strength: Veteran tacklers. Messina, Stoner, and Merritt combined to make 245 tackles. They know what they're doing and everyone should stay fresh with a good rotation to work around.
Weakness: Run defense. Don't let the stats fool you; there were way, way too many stops made down the field. Everyone can hit and this is a feisty, physical group, but you don't finish last in the nation in run defense without a slew of problems.
Outlook: Messina is a sure-thing All-Mountain West star and Stoner, Merritt, and Bollema can all play. The key will be to get more impact plays and more stops in the backfield. This group has to use its experience and athleticism to do more.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The secondary wasn't as bad as other parts of the 2010 defense, but it wasn't anything special. Now, with a bulk of experience returning at safety, the 4-2-5 alignment should be a perfect fit. Four starters are back with the fifth new starter set with a few options, but getting more of a pass rush would be a big help for the overall stats.

The leader of the secondary should once again be Bubba Forrest, a 6-1, 205-pound senior who finished second on the team with 100 tackles with a team-leading two picks and 4.5 tackles for loss. A special teamer along with a big-time tackler, has good range, makes every play like a linebacker, and has the smarts to be a top-shelf leader. He's an ideal nickel back, while redshirt freshman Martize Barr is moving over from wide receiver with the speed and the toughness to be a strong understudy. He's 5-11, 191 pounds, and fast.

Junior A.J. Butler made 50 tackles in eight games with a slew of injury issues keeping him down. A tough player at the Wolf position, he's a former running back who caught 32 passes and ran for 177 yards in his first season, but with his 6-1, 195-pound size and tremendous speed he's all over the field for the secondary. 6-3, 205-pound sophomore Carmeiris Stewart needs to be at the ready if and when Butler has injury problems again. Back after missing all of last year with a knee injury, the former receiver is ready.

Senior Anthony Hooks is as close to a lock-down corner as the Lobos have. A decent veteran, he made 39 tackles with a pick, three broken up passes, and two forced fumbles. At 5-11 and 175 pound former walk-on is a good hitter and he's physical, but he's not the best of ball-hawkers. Junior Destry Berry will be a part of the rotation after coming in from Erie Community College. He's a good tackler and a great special teamer who has a nose for blocking kicks.

Back at his starting spot on the other side is junior DeShawn Mills, a 5-10, 176-pounder who has been a part of the secondary for the last few years with 15 starts. He came up with 43 tackles with three broken up passes, but he has to prove he can make more plays when the ball is in the air. True freshman Devonta Tabannah can do a little bit of everything with the talent to be a playmaker on offense and the quickness and toughness to be an effective corner. He's rail-thin and he's not going to be a big hitter, but he has 4.4 speed and can stay with any speed receiver.

The one new starter in the mix in the new alignment is 5-11, 195-pound junior DeShon Marman, a great-looking JUCO transfer from the always strong City College of San Francisco. A good tackler, he'll be a perfect fit for the system and should be a statistical machine. 5-11, 196-pound junior Freddy Young is fast, tough, and very promising. The son of former NFL linebacker Fredd Young made 31 tackles, but he missed time hurt.

Watch Out For … Marman. He might be the one new starter to the mix, but he has the talent and the potential to be an instant standout. The top JUCO transfer might be the best defensive back right away.
Strength: Experience. Marman has JUCO experience and the other four starters are back. There are more than enough veterans to rely on, and the depth isn't all that bad.
Weakness: Interceptions. Four. That's how many the Lobo defense had, and the secondary came up with three of them with Forrest getting two. Considering the defensive backs gave up 25 touchdown passes with three or more in five games, there have to be far more big plays.
Outlook: The secondary gave up 200 yards or more in nine of 12 games in 2010 and was lit up by anyone who tried to throw. Of the three teams that didn't get to 200 were Wyoming, who stunk, Air Force, who completed 7-of-10 passes, and New Mexico State. There's too much experience to continue to be so awful.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Senior James Aho nailed 18-of-24 field goals as a true freshman struggled two year ago connecting on 13-of-21 kicks, and then was terrific again last season hitting 8-of-9 field goals with his only miss coming from 41 yards out against Utah. The former walk-on is an All-America candidate with good range and great consistency, nailing his last seven field goal attempts last year. While he's not going to be a regular from 55+, he'll get the job done from midrange and in.

The punting game was a problem finishing 115th in the nation averaging just 31.85 yards per try, but that was because the coverage teams were awful. Sophomore Ben Skaer averaged 40.5 yards per kick putting 18 inside the 20 and forcing 22 fair catches, but he didn't get any help whatsoever.

The punt return game was the second-worst in the nation averaging a pathetic 2.3 yards per try, and now JUCO transfer Lamaar Thomas will get his chance to provide a boost. The kickoff return game was solid with now-receiver Emmanuel McPhearson averaging 24.3 yards per try, but Thomas and DaShawn Mills will do most of the heavy lifting.

Watch Out For … Skaer to get more love. He really did have a good year as the new punter, but the coverage teams were beyond miserable. He's accurate, has a good leg, and will start to get a little bit of all-star consideration.
Strength: Aho. It's not like New Mexico plays a ton of close games, but Aho is as reliable and as good as they come. For good and bad, he's the team's best offensive weapon.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The punt return game was embarrassing, but the biggest problem for a defense that needs help are the coverage units that allowed 29.7 yards per kickoff return and 15.6 yards and three scores on punt returns.
Outlook: The special teams weren't as bad as the other areas of the team, but Aho was great, Skaer was solid, and the kickoff return game was great. Now everything else has to come together.
Unit Rating: 5

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