77F University Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- New Mexico coach Bob Davie isn't drawing any conclusions about a Boise State offense that has struggled and sputtered in the red zone.
For Davie, there is too much respect for Boise State coach Chris Petersen, too much grasp of history and the Broncos' standing as the nation's highest-scoring team over the past 12 years.
And frankly, Davie has enough experience as a head coach and television analyst to know that a team as talented as Boise State is likely to explode at any time.
"Boise State has always been known for their offense ... and they're just so confident in their system," said Davie, whose Lobos are 2-2 after beating in-state rival New Mexico State last week and ending a 24-game losing streak on the road. "It'd be pretty hard to bet against them based on their history."
The No. 24 Broncos (2-1) begin their quest for their first - and only - Mountain West Conference championship Saturday at Branch Field in Albuquerque, N.M. The Broncos finished second behind TCU last year thanks to a late-season loss at home against the Horned Frogs, now playing in the Big 12. The Broncos were tabbed by coaches and media as the preseason favorites to win the conference this year before heading next year to the Big East.
At the time, many predicted the offense would carry the load for a defense decimated by graduation, with just two starters coming back. But so far, the Broncos have pulled a reverse.
In the first quarter of the season, the Boise State offense has been a shell of its once potent self, especially inside the red zone. The Broncos are averaging 19.7 points per game, half of what the team has averaged since 2000. The offense failed to score touchdowns in two of three games, against Michigan State and last week against BYU.
The offense, led by redshirt junior Joe Southwick, has just three touchdowns to show for 12 trips inside the red zone, down from a 74 percent rate compiled last year. The inability to capitalize in the red zone can be blamed on several factors: untimely penalties, mental and execution errors and even nerves.
"I feel like we're not playing loose enough or playing as fast," Boise State tight end Chandler Koch said earlier this week. "We're just putting too much pressure on ourselves."
Despite those difficulties, Davie admits the Lobo defense faces another tough test. The Lobos gave up 45 points in a loss at Texas in Week 2 and 49 points in a loss the following week at Texas Tech. On the year, New Mexico is giving up an average of 32.5 points per game and a whopping 448 yards per game.
Davie said he also expects to stick with a defensive game plan built around keeping his base players on the field rather than a system of substitutions and matchups dictated by the Boise State offense. That strategy worked last week as the Lobos held New Mexico State to 14 points
"We've got a huge challenge just to see if we can elevate our game ... and to try and execute in the same league Boise State executes," Davie said. "And that may not be enough."
The same can be said for the Lobos offense.
This year, Davie installed a version of the triple option, which has given Boise State players and defensive coordinators fits in the past. Last year, Air Force rushed for 264 yards, rolled up 408 yards of total offense and held the ball for more than 36 minutes in a 36-27 loss at Bronco Stadium.
The Lobos have learned quickly, and are averaging 295 yards per game, most of it on the ground. Four players have rushed for more than 100 yards and quarterback Cole Gautsche, who handles the offense on running downs, is third on the team in rushing with 159 yards on 29 carries. The offense is also winning the time of possession battle, holding the ball for nearly 32 minutes per game.
But the Boise State defense has been stellar so far this year and in many ways deserves much of the credit for the team's 2-1 start. Despite the loss of all four starters on the front line, players like ends Demarcus Lawrence and Sam Ukwuachu, along with nose tackle Mike Atkinson, have set the tone early in games by shutting down the run and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Boise State's defense ranks 18th in the nation in total yards, allowing 296 per game, and just 11.67 points per game, 10th best nationally. Lawrence has 3.5 sacks so far and Atkinson returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown last week to provide all the points needed in a 7-6 victory.
"It's going to be really tough for us on defense," said Petersen, who spent most of the week defending his team's anemic offense. "We could be having the same conversation about our defense next week."