2022 New Mexico Football breakout player on defense

Who will stand out in Rocky Long’s defense?

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The next great UNM defender

You have to be very impressed with the New Mexico Lobo defense last year. Defensive coordinator and former head coach Rocky Long made quite a difference with his limited talent in last year’s roster.

Consider that the Lobo Defense has made some massive improvements in 2021, taking 44th place in overall defense and a 57 point improvement over 2020.

UNM allowed 363.1 yards per game, the lowest total in 13 seasons since the team allowed 335.8 yards per game in 2008.

They also finished 44th overall and the 2008 team finished 45th. Last year’s placement was the best since 2007, when UNM ranked 13th in total defense with 319.9 yards per game.

The New Mexico rushing defense stood at 143.2 yards per game, better than a 20 yards per game improvement from 2020, and it’s the best rushing defense since 2008 when UNM ranked 26th with 122.3 yards per game .

In terms of passing play, UNM allowed just 219.8 passing yards per game at #54, a significant adjustment from 2019 when passing defense allowed 321.4 yards per game and ranked 130th (last) in the FBS. It was UNM’s best pass defense since 2010, when the unit ranked 53rd at 218.8 yards per game.

New Mexico’s pass defense goes further back than last year. If you count the last four games of the 2020 season, when UNM only allowed 750 passing yards (an average of 187.5 after 1,231 yards, or 410.3 per game in the first three), the Lobos have just 211.8 yards through the air over the last 16 games.

The common denominators are of course Gonzales and Long, who were here in 2008. Here is the chart of UNM’s defensive success this year and UNM’s defensive numbers and rankings going back to 2007.

You can expect improvements for Lobo fans every year as this 3-3-5 playbook opens, talents are added and players understand the scheme. Danny Gonzales and Rocky Long are cut from the same defensive shape.

Also a key factor is corner coach Troy Reffett, who worked with Rocky Long and knows the defensive philosophy of Long and now head coach Danny Gonzales.

You can look at Lobo’s history and see players who have played the cornerback positions and his great job, especially how they are usually on an island one-on-one with some of the best receivers from opposing offenses. Great cornerback play is a must in this defense.

Rocky Long’s defense still managed to finish fourth in Total Defense and 42nd in Defensive Passing Success Allowed at the MWC. The passport defense was her bright spot last year.

This Lobo alumni under Coach Davie Howes (safeties coach) and Troy Reffett (cornerbacks coach) undoubtedly did well given their talent.

The Lobo defensive line was the 79th rushing success rate, giving up 54 points in the fourth quarter of games.

That won’t be enough for DC Rocky Long; make no mistake; he is one of the best defensive coordinators in all of college football; Ask San Diego State fans from his time there.

The Aztecs made massive improvements under Rocky Long, which showed in games won annually.

New Mexico is blessed to have him on the staff considering what he gave up financially to coach his alma mater, a large salary as a head coach at SDSU, to what his defense coordinator salary is now.

This is rare in today’s college football world with only massive salaries for head coaches and assistants. That’s so refreshing.

You have to respect his love of football and the University of New Mexico football program; Actions speak louder than words.

Now, it’s from the experience of this author observing this team that Rocky Long’s defense tends to hit a sweet spot just a few years after hitting the teams he’s been with.

This can be attributed to the addition of more talent and a deeper understanding of Rocky Long’s version of the 3-3-5 defense.

Head coach Danny Gonzales has said not to open up this defensive playbook until players begin to fully grasp it in his pressers.

So watch for this defense to improve from last year, especially at the linebacker position with Cody Moon, Syaire Riley and Ray Leutele all a year under their belt.

They all combined for 125 tackles that should go up this year. Rocky Long’s defense is a lot of fun for the linebackers, who flash and brake on so many plays to wreak havoc on offense.

That defense should start hitting more cylinders this year as the Lobos have some playmakers, as in Tavian Combs, who was a tackle machine in the Lobo position.

He was listed as the 3rd Team Athlon Sports Preseason All-Mountain West Team.

Add Ronald Wilson with a 54-stop season and Lobo veteran Jerrick Reed. A total of four starters are expected in the defensive backcourt.

Reed was a former JUCO transfer who led the Lobos with 89 stops and is one of the toughest players in secondary school. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to make big plays for the Lobos.

Reed will be on my First Team All-Mountain West Wire Team and was recently named a 2nd Team All Athlon Sports Preseason All-Mountain West Team

Now the Lobos’ lead sack, Joey Noble, is gone, but the Lobos are returning some depth for defensive line coach Jerome Haywood.

There’s not a lot of bulk, but Bryce Santana has just enough height to hold more on the nose. DL Jake Saltonstall started making some plays last year and was the 3rd Athlon Sports Preseason All-Mountain West Team.

Playing on the same Los Lunas Tigers team with Bryce Santana, Kiehne should have good chemistry for this Rocky Long defense.

Kienhe, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defender, had some size for the Lobos up front and should see plenty of action as the Lobos like to rotate their linemen to keep them fresh.

He still has four years of eligibility after seeing no game action with the Bruins last season, but that should really change under Long, especially with his height and strength.

The Best New Mexico Lobo Defensive Players for 2022 are:

Jerrick Reed S (2nd Team Athlong All MWC) (1st College Football News)

Tavian Combs S (3rd Team Athlon All MWC) (2nd College Football News)

Jake Saltonstall DE (3rd Team Athlon All MWC) (8th College Football News)

Ray Leutele LB (3rd Team Athlon All MWC) (5th College Football News)

Donte Martin C (4th Team Athlong All MWC)

Ronald Wilson

Dion Hunter (should have a breakthrough year for Lobos,

Syaire Riley, Rico Hanna, and Bryce Santana

Honorable Mentions Tyler Kienhe (I think he has the potential to do well on this defense) and Cody Moon (much advantage for this Albuquerque native boy who plays with high motor skills)

Both players fly under the radar in my opinion but should really help this Lobo team. Both high motor athletes for this Rocky Long team.

So look at this lobo defense with more depth and a better understanding of the 3-3-5, as only Rocky Long can take you back to the old days of the lobo defense flying to the ball, bagging quarterbacks and making turnovers Help win some games this year.


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