"For us, we know that in the 3-3-5 they do tons of blitzing," said Cougar tight end Andrew George. "They come from all different directions and do a lot of downhill blitzing."
The downhill blitzing George spoke of stems from the 3-3-5 defense's emphasis on players in the secondary. The Lobos will be sending defenders from the third tier of their defense at Max Hall, allowing them to gain a lot of momentum and speed prior to hitting the gaps created by crossing defensive linemen.
"It basically means they're not coming from couple yards back," George said. "Downhill blitzing means they're coming from five yards and beyond while on the run. It's more physical."
In the New Mexico secondary, the Loboback is a player that mans the center of the field and has more freedom to roam, blitz or cheat up into a linebacker position on any give play.
"It's very unorthodox blitzing," said George. "You have to really be on your game with line checks and with your scheme basically. We have to study a lot of film to understand what they're trying to do. They do all kinds of different types of blitzing, so it's important for us to understand what all those are."
As an old-school type coach, Rocky Long simply doesn't respect the passing game as much as the run game. Evidence of this can be found in a "zero blitz" package the Lobos often run against heavy passing teams.
"They do tons of different things and it's not just zone blitz either," said George. "They do a lot of zero blitzing, where the idea is to overload an offense so much that not everyone can be accounted for. It's a blitz where they bring everybody. They bring the house and there are not enough players for us to pick it up. We have to always be aware of this so we can check down to something else. We have a play ready or someone has to recognize it so we don't have a sack or something worse."
One big difficulty the 3-3-5 defense gives offenses is its ability to disguise where a player maybe blitzing from. The unique formation also gives players a greater ability to fake a blitz.
"In a way you can see what they're doing, but that doesn't always tip you off," said George. "They're trying to disguise their blitzes by trying to get you to think they're coming from one way, and then all of a sudden they hit you with a blitz from another way. A lot of it comes from recognizing where they like to come from, [and] also where they like to fake a blitz and come from as well. So, a lot of the recognition factor is placed on the quarterback. He has to be aware of these tendencies and be able to check down to the right places."
The Cougars have been working hard at better understand blitzing tendencies so that they can combat what a defense may throw at them.
"Every day we go through a run review before practice," said George. "Obviously we watch a lot of film to better understand what they're trying to do. This helps us to know what limitations there might be on given schemes, as well as help us to better understand who needs to be watching out for who."
The Cougars also broke a bit from the practice norm this week in their preparation for the Lobo defense. The team suited up in pads and did some hitting to better prepare themselves for the overaggressive nature of the UNM defense.
"We needed a day this week with shoulder pads to better prepare for what we're expecting from these guys," said George. "We know how hard they're going to come and we really need to have a good understanding of how hard they play. We know that and we've seen it on film how hard they come. It's a scheme and ideology that Coach Mendenhall brought here, and we know how intense Coach Mendenhall's defense was when he brought it here. So we know about it, but we need to make sure that we are fully prepared for it."
As was mentioned earlier, Coach Mendenhall is very familiar with the 3-3-5 defense, having utilized it at New Mexico and BYU. While Mendenhall's expertise lies on the defensive side of the ball, his knowledge of the 3-3-5 system has allowed him to help prepare the Cougar offense for Saturday.
"There is a line of authority and Coach Mendenhall has helped advise his coaches, and then it comes down to us," said George. "Coach Mendenhall has met with all of our offensive coaches and tells them basically what they're trying to do, and then our coaches relay the information to us. It starts with our blocking schemes and then filters down to individuals recognizing and working together within their individual responsibilities to help pick up those blitzes. It's great having guys like Harvey [Unga] and Fui [Vakapuna] back there to help pick up some of those blitzes and help protect Max [Hall] during passing downs."
Cougar fans can expect the Lobos to try and pressure Max Hall to get him out of rhythm and make him feel very uncomfortable and insecure within the pocket. It's a situation Hall really hasn't dealt with or faced all year long, but you can count on Coach Long's aggressive 3-3-5 defense to try and create such a situation for Hall and the Cougar passing offense.