Of all the offenses that Fresno State faces, it's the New Mexico triple option that Bulldogs safety Derron Smith and many teammates dread most.
New Mexico might not be lighting up the scoreboard, averaging 23.5 points per game, and rarely throws (20 pass attempts). But the run-oriented system is churning out 349.7 rushing yards per game, second in the nation.
The system allows for the quarterback to take snaps out of the shotgun, then use deceptive handoffs and tricky laterals. Cut blocks are thrown by just about every Lobos player who isn't carrying the ball.
"It's extremely difficult," Smith said as Fresno State (1-3) prepared for its Mountain West opener Friday at New Mexico (1-2). "It's definitely one of the games that I don't look forward to. They run an offense that's definitely hard to prepare for. And as a secondary, you definitely have to have your eyes right.
"We've struggled with that at times this year, being disciplined with our eyes and our technique. Another thing, especially as a secondary, is getting cut. You have the risk of injury, always getting cut going to the ground. But it's part of the game. Every offense brings a different dimension, different things you have to prepare for."
Fresno State has defended the triple-option fairly well the past two seasons, other than at the start of the Bulldogs' last trip to Albuquerque in 2012.
New Mexico rushed for 135 yards in the first quarter and led 21-0 before Fresno State stormed back for a 49-32 victory.
Last season, the Bulldogs returned the favor by jumping out 28-0 and cruising to a 69-28 home win. The Lobos finished with 168 rushing yards.
Still, defensive coordinator Nick Toth reminded his unit that past defensive success doesn't automatically carry over.
"Just because you've done something before doesn't guarantee it again," Toth said. "I think we're schematically sound. We've changed some things up for this game, a little different (from) the last two years. Make sure they're not seeing the same defense."
The Bulldogs dedicated heavy practice time this week to working on how to avoid cut blocks, which triple-option teams such as New Mexico regularly use to create running lanes.
Receivers and running backs, along with the offensive linemen, will fly toward a defender's lower body.
Veteran players such as Smith and defensive lineman Tyeler Davison are fully familiar with the tactic. But for younger linemen such as Nate Madsen and Maurice Poyadue and defensive backs such as Malcolm Washington, this will be their first time.
"We talk about beating it with your eyes first and hands second ... understand (that) you're not going through cut blocks; you've got to play off of contact." Toth said. "That's one of the biggest things you'll find on the perimeter when guys are on the ground against the option because they (were) worried about fitting off the ball instead of fitting off the block that's in front of them.
"That's really a hard thing. Because you're talking about defensive backs coming from depth, attacking the line of scrimmage. They're tracking the ball, but between them and that ball is a bunch of guys trying to get to their legs."
New Mexico's deception adds another wrinkle, masking who'll carry the ball and what direction he will head.
It's triple-option defense tested to the max, with certain players assigned to stop the dive (run up the middle), the quarterback keeper to the outside and the keeper to the inside, as well as to the pitchman -- usually a running back but sometimes a slot receiver.
On top of that, there are the rare throws. The Lobos have completed four passes of at least 20 yards, including a long of 44 and a touchdown catch of 32.
"You've got to be diligent," Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. "Eyes have got to be 100% of the time. You can't guess. Whatever your assignment is, the other guys have got to be able to trust that you're going to do it and not let your eyes fool you.
"It's something that's always preached when you're playing a triple-option team. Hopefully our guys will take it to heart."