I trust none of you missed Paul's overall take here. I wanted to add my thoughts and look at units specifically.
Going into the New Mexico game I really didn't know what to expect from our defense or how exactly I would evaluate its production. At first glance, facing triple option teams can raise concerns that many assume will be irrelevant for the rest of the season. While I'm very happy we won't have to face an offense like this for the rest of the season, I'm even happier this game tested us in a way that gives the coaches a lot to gripe about this week. After review of the defense's play, I saw growth in some areas, consistency in others, as well as legitimate concerns moving forward.
Check out this week's unit-by-unit breakdown:
This week, there's no real need to break these guys out into two groups. The entire D-line's responsibility was to protect the middle of the defense in the run game. Net of the 3rd possession of the game when they may have gotten lulled to sleep with the monotony of defending this offense, they fulfilled their responsibilities in run defense. I would have appreciated seeing us face the senior quarterback B.R. Holbrook the entire game. Known more for his passing ability, he came out controlling the clock by throwing the ball well and running effectively. While I love the effort put together against the freshman Cole Gautsche, I won't kid myself into thinking the game wasn't headed for more of a challenge with Holbrook at the helm. Even still, New Mexico's offense didn't have their first 3 and out until the 3rd quarter. Nonetheless, the guys can only perform against who's out there and the defensive line did their part in defending a handicapped passing game.
Not to go unmentioned, Jackson Jeffcoat showed up this week all over the place against an offense where defensive line's value is imperative but limits an individual's ability to shine. NFL scouts may not care to watch this film but his statline was impeccable (5 tackles, 3 TFLS, pass break up, sack, and QB hurry). There seemed to be nothing stopping him from making things happen.
Jordan Hicks - He was everywhere we needed him Saturday and more. He was the most consistent linebacker when it came to being disciplined on his option assignments and covering the field. Although he won't face this type of blocking scheme again this year, I thought he did the best job of getting off bocks and going to make plays. This was all in addition to getting guys lined up nanoseconds before the ball was snapped. I've enjoyed watching him lead and the seeing way he's performed the last two games. Although New Mexico's offense was undeniably cumbersome, I look forward to the way he'll be able to perform once he can zone in on his own responsibilities as others learn to get themselves aligned prior to the snap.
Steve Edmond - I thought Edmond made some progress this week overall (9 tackles, TFL) but could have had a much more productive game if he didn't miss assignments here and there. This would have been a great week for him to work on using his hands to get off blocks and I saw him on the ground more than I'd like. There were also a few times when the offense ran the option where Edmond was a little late on getting to the QB due to indecision. Although this offense causes you to think more than you'd like to, there were times where I didn't see him commit to the dive back, QB, or pitch man. I can't be sure what his responsibility was, but it's clear he wasn't sure either or didn't diagnose quickly enough.
He's a guy who will be scary once he stops thinking and plays faster. New Mexico's offense just wasn't conducive to that. All in all, this is more film from which he can learn and as he gets more comfortable with week-to-week preparation he'll be better suited to understanding what's expected of him in the defense. I hope this happens sooner rather than later because once he starts to play faster, he'll begin to punish opponents the way we all continue to mentally masturbate over.
Demarco Cobbs - I thought this week would be a much better chance to see him perform against a more traditional run team. While New Mexico had 47 rushing attempts, this game didn't provide the opportunities I'd like to see him face against a traditional run game. I'm beginning to think "why does it even matter?" Who knows if we'll ever see him consistently challenged in that way against Big XII teams? While he had a few missed assignments and tackles here and there, I like Manny Diaz's commitment to his role in the defense and the value he'll continue to bring in different packages. I think I'll shut up for now about what I haven't seen him do and enjoy watching him grow into his role on this defense.
Field - I was impressed with how these guys came out late and flew around. This offense was tough enough to defend for the starting group but these guys went out and made some plays for themselves.
Kenny Vaccaro - As expected, he was all over the place on Saturday. He consistently finishes every play with physical aggression that is unmatched on this defense. Whether he was playing deep or on the back side of a running play, he found a way to get in the mix. If this entire team, not just the defense, had his pulse, opponents would be in for a long day. We need more guys to pay attention to the way he plays and emulate that.
Adrian Phillips - He may have been the next closest thing to Kenny V as far as passion goes. He was cleaning up tackles and filling in where needed all night. I think this was a great game to build his confidence. As a new starter, he didn't get quite as involved in the game against Wyoming as I imagine he would have liked. There's nothing like following that game up with a game where you're towards the top of the stat sheet. Irrespective of the opponent moving forward, I believe Phillips will continue to feed off the taste of being more active in this last game.
After a week of missing some tackles and not appearing sharp, I thought Byndom and Diggs responded well. Other than a few passes early, I don't remember Byndom being tested much throughout the game. Diggs, on the other hand, found a way to leave an impression. Diggs was physical in getting off blocks and looked to finish violently on tackles. In his hit on Holbrook's final play of the game, he came across the field and approached the tackle with intent to wrap up and finish physically. Unfortunately, Holbrook slid and took the hit to the head instead of his lower body.
Quandre Diggs also made the most out of a poorly thrown ball by Gautsche. He left himself enough cushion in coverage to see both his man and when the ball was released by the quarterback. That awareness allowed him to come off and make a play on the pass intended for the inside receiver. After a game where some questioned these guys' focus, I was pleased to see them make plays when they had opportunities and clean up some of the tackling issues from the Wyoming game.
I ‘m excited about seeing these guys play on the road this week. Although this isn't one of top tier programs in the country, I believe it will be a great test for our young defense in the their first road game of the season. After watching film on our offense (scouting report coming soon), we will need the defense to create turnovers and give them multiple opportunities to figure things out. Without compromise, we need to get the most out of the Ole Miss game heading into the bye week because I don't see any break in the schedule until we travel to Lawrence, Kansas in late October.