Third down has been good but not great this season for New Mexico and its triple-option offense. The Lobos have converted 16 of 38 plays (42.1%) into firsts to rank sixth in the Mountain West Conference,
It is good for a tie for 60th in the Football Bowl Subdivision, though it is not as if they have been up against defensive giants in three of their games to this point.
Arizona State, New Mexico State and Texas-El Paso are ranked 74th, 88th and 108th in total defense.
But within those numbers there could be a spot of trouble for Fresno State, which opens its quest for a third consecutive conference championship Friday in Albuquerque, and getting the Lobos off the field on third downs will be crucial for the Bulldogs' defense.
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"They're the type of team that wants to be in third-and-short, third-and-medium, keep the sticks moving, get the clock rolling, limit our possessions, so we have to do a great job on defense of getting them off the field," coach Tim DeRuyter said.
The Lobos, as might be expected, have rushed the football on the majority of those plays, which keeps opposing safeties with their eyes inside and cornerbacks in one-on-one matchups on the outside.
New Mexico has used that to its advantage — it has completed 11 of its 16 third-down passes (68.8%), securing eight of its third-down conversions. And the Bulldogs' cornerback play obviously has not been strong whether in coverage, making a play on the football or downing the ball after a reception.
Fresno State has been credited with eight pass breakups and only two of them came on plays that were made by cornerbacks — Curtis Riley has one and Charles Washington, who made his second start there last week in a victory over Southern Utah, has the other.
The Bulldogs did have their best performance of the season on third downs last week, allowing the Thunderbirds to convert only 4 of 16 plays into first downs (25%). It helped that Southern Utah rushed the football seven times when in a third-and-long situation (7 or more yards to go).
But the Bulldogs are hoping for some carryover there in an area they have struggled.
"We had nine three-and-outs last week," DeRuyter said. "If you can do that consistently, it really helps our offense to get off to a faster start than what we had last week. When they're out there and they know three plays later they're going back, it helps."
Motivated? For Lobos, it's unspoken
New Mexico absorbed a thorough beating last season when playing in Bulldog Stadium, with Derek Carr and company rolling up a school and conference record 820 yards of offense in a 69-28 victory.
Lobos Coach Bob Davie was asked about that at his weekly news conference, whether it was something he would use this week to motivate his team.
"You know, I don't think we have to say a word," he said. "You know, if you were on that trip, if you walked up that tunnel, up that hill, with all their fans outside that fence ... If you had happen what happened to us last year, if I have to say something to our guys about that then we have the wrong guys because we just got whipped, whipped, whipped.
"You know at the end of the game they're running the ball, just trying to get the game over with, and then they threw a pass down there late, but just running the ball to get the game over with and we can't tackle. We can't tackle the big back. They're just that much bigger, that much physical. It was unbelievable, an unbelievable deal up there last year, so I don't think I have to say anything about that. That was personal. That was a beating."
Getting them off the field
The Bulldogs allowed only 11 first downs last week in that blowout victory over the Thunderbirds, the fewest since last Nov. 23 when they played ... New Mexico.
The Lobos had only 10 first downs in gaining 325 yards including only 168 rushing. They averaged 308.8 rushing yards per game in 2013.