2011 Idaho Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Idaho Vandal Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: A
After years of the defense struggling to do something right, anything right, last year there were some rays of hope. Finishing 95th in the nation in yards allowed is hardly anything to get excited about, but it was a step forward. Now with eight starters returning, the expectations are higher. The run defense continued to struggle, but the pass rush finally showed up in the Robb Akey era. Defensive coordinator Mark Criner has some terrific pieces to work around with everyone by safety Shiloh Keo returning to the back seven, and tackle Michael Cosgrove leading a decent-looking line. A pure pass rusher needs to emerge to replace Aaron Lavarias, but the athletic linebackers will help the cause.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Robert Siavii
Tackles: Robert Siavii, 91
Sacks: Michael Cosgrove, 4
Interceptions: Aaron Grymes, Gary Walker, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Charles Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DT Karel Kearney
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Aaron Grymes
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Siavii, 2) DT Michael Cosgrove, 3) Grymes
Strength of the defense: Experience, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, End
State of the Unit: The Idaho defensive front loses two starters from a group that struggled against the run – again – but was terrific at getting into the backfield helping the Vandals finish second in the WAC in tackles for loss and 32nd in the nation in sacks. Considering the pass rush was a problem for years, the line made a big improvement, but it has to replace Aaron Lavarias and his 9.5 sacks and 16.5 sacks of lost production
Not too much was expected of Michael Cosgrove as he entered the starting lineup going into last year, but he quickly made an impact and turned into one of the team's best pass rushers. The 6-4, 294-pound senior ended up with 30 tackles with four sacks, and now he'll be the anchor as one of the WAC's top all-around defensive tackles. He's big, quick, and extremely active off the ball. He'll be backed up by a pair of 6-4, 300-pound space-eaters. Sophomore Quayshawne Buckley is a big, physical presence who should hold up well against the run, while JUCO transfer Aaron Lazaro comes in from Southwestern College after making 28 tackles with three sacks last season. Always working and always moving, he'll find his way into the backfield.
Next to Cosgrove will be 6-2, 294-pound redshirt freshman Karel Kearney on the nose. Expected to be a major part of the defensive interior for the next four years, he has gotten in better shape, slimmed down, and should be able to do a little of everything including get to the quarterback. 6-4, 295-pound JUCO transfer Dontae Scott made five sacks and 31 tackles last year for Golden West College, but his job will be to use his strength to gum up the works inside.
6-6, 266-pound senior Charles Smith is a tall, rangy player with good quickness and excellent upside now that he'll get a bigger role. He made eight tackles as a backup, and now he'll work as a more of a pass rusher with the athleticism to do far more. He'll be backed up by 6-4, 260-pound sophomore Vince Keener, a nice pass rushing prospect who made two tackles last season but has the size and quickness to get to the quarterback on a regular basis.
Back in a starting role is junior Benson Mayowa after taking over the job from the opening snap last year. The 6-3, 251-pounder made 25 tackles with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. A disruptive speedster, he has a good burst into the backfield with three forced fumbles and the potential to do far more, especially against the run. Looking to get back into a groove behind Mayowa is 6-3, 242-pound senior Andre Ferguson, who became a key part of the defensive end rotation after moving over from outside linebacker. He beefed up to handle the position, but he only came up with two sacks and 22 tackles after making 34 stops two years ago.
Watch Out For … Kearney. The line needs to do more against the run, and while Cosgrove is the star, Kearney has the bigger upside. He can get into the backfield, but mostly he'll be asked to hold up on the inside.
Strength: Size. With the emergence of Buckley and Lazaro, the interior got a bigger to go along with decent-sized starters in Cosgrove and Kearney. Smith, Keener, and Mayowa have the bulk on the outside to bang around with the more physical offenses.
Weakness: Run defense. Even though Idaho was among the best teams in the WAC and among the better defenses in the nation at getting into the backfield, the run defense was still a problem. Nevada, Nebraska, and Louisiana Tech were able to roll at will, while too many teams ran well to go along with the good passing days.
Outlook: The Vandal defensive line might be missing some key pieces, but the line should do its job. The linebacking corps can get to the quarterback and be disruptive, but the front four should do most of the heavy lifting. The run defense has to be stronger and more consistent, but after struggling for a long, long time to do something right, the line should keep improving after a decent 2010.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: All three starters return to an active group that can get into the backfield and can swarm around the ball, but has to do far more to hold up against the stronger rushing attacks. Experience has to translate into production.
Senior Robert Siavii is a safety-sized 6-1 and 217 pounds, but he's a great hitter and a sure tackler coming up with a team-leading 91 stops with 3.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Very fast and built for the weakside, he's solid in pass coverage coming up with four broken up passes and a pick, but he's at his best as a guided missile in space. 6-1, 223-pound junior Conrad Scheidt is a bigger option who saw time in nine games making 22 tackles with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. The Hawaiian is a key special teamer as well as a strong reserve.
5-11, 239-pound senior Tre'Shawn Robinson was knocked out a few years ago with a knee injury but made it back to come up with 49 tackles as a sophomore before blowing up with 80 stops, 1.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss. The team's second-leading tackler and steady producer in the middle, he's quick, tough, and proved he could hold up. Backup him up is veteran Tyler Brooks, a 6-1, 239-pound senior who has mostly been a special teamer coming up with five stops last year. JUCO transfer Sua "Sam" Tuala, comes in from City College of San Francisco with good size and great hitting ability. The 6-0, 230-poundwe isn't a pass rusher, but he made 78 tackles as the NorCal Defensive Player of the Year.
6-0, 232-pound senior Homer Mauga came over from the JUCO ranks and immediately filled a hole finishing fourth on the team with 74 tackles with three sacks and seven tackles for loss. Short, squatty, and strong, he's built for the strongside and doesn't miss a stop. With all-star potential, he should be in for an even bigger season now that he knows what he's doing. 6-3, 3234-pound senior Korey Toomer didn't do too much out of the JUCO box two years ago after starting for Arizona Western, but he made eight tackles as a special teamer. Now he's back in the mix on defense after redshirting.
Watch Out For … Tuala. He's not going to take a starting job, and he'll have to fight through the traffic to see time in the middle, but he has the ability to grow into a perfect option for the middle of the Vandal defense He'll be a 70+ tackle type of playmaker before his career is over.
Strength: Experience. Between Siavii, Robinson, and Mauga, three of Idaho's top four tackles from last year are back in the linebacking corps. All three can get into the backfield and all three can hit.
Weakness: Run defense. There weren't enough meaningful stops in key moments. The front four has to do its job and has to be more disruptive, but the Vandal linebackers have to do far more near the line of scrimmage rather than nine yards past it.
Outlook: The linebacking corps needed to do more to get to the quarterback and make things happen behind the line. Problem solved. Now the Vandals have to get even more production and even more big plays to make up for the team's overall issues against the run. Even so, Robinson, Siavii and Mauga form one of the WAC's strongest trios.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: The secondary got plenty of help from the front seven and the pass rush, but it didn't do enough with it. Idaho finished fourth in the WAC in pass defense, but still allowed 231 yards per game and was mediocre against the teams that could actually throw the ball. Gone is Shiloh Keo, one of the program's greatest safeties who finished his career with 358 tackles and 11 picks, but there are more than enough veterans returning to pick up the slack.
Trying to take over for Keo at strong safety is Quin Ashley, a 5-11, 208-pound hitter who came up with 35 tackles in his reserve role, but didn't do anything against the pass. After starting out his career on the offensive side, coming up with 146 rushing yards and three catches, while completing 8-of-26 passes for 92 yards and a score with two picks, he redshirted the 2009 season, changed around his career, and now he's a safety. After last year, he knows what he's doing. 5-11, 213-pound redshirt freshman James Randall is a good tackling prospect with big hitting ability.
After starting out as a spot starter, 5-11, 186-pound junior Aaron Grymes took over the corner job full-time and finished third on the team with 78 tackles with two picks and 6.5 tackles for loss. One of the team's fastest players, he has been a part of the mix since his true freshman season and saw time at free safety as well as corner, coming up with 43 stops in his first season. With 10.8 speed in the 100, he has the athleticism and the talent to stay with any receiver in the WAC. 6-0, 174-pound sophomore Tracy Carter is a versatile option who can backup Grymes at corner or could work as a nickel or dime defender. While he's tall and thin, and he's not the tackler that Grymes is, he can move.
There should be a good combination at the other corner spot with 5-10, 173-pound senior Matthew Harvey getting the first look after making 18 tackles with a pick and two tackles in seven games. Now the JUCO transfer should work as a key starting corner and can see time as a kickoff returner, while Kenny Patten will be start somewhere after being a key part of the secondary over the last two seasons. At 5-9 and 194 pounds he's a short, strong defender who came up with 47 tackles but only broke up two passes. He's a good hitter who might shine brighter at safety.
Junior Gary Walker is back at free safety after seeing time at strong safety earlier in his career. At 6-0 and 189 pounds he can play either safety spot without a problem, but he's better at free safety making two picks along with 58 tackles and a team-leading three recovered fumbles. He could stand to do far more when the ball is in the air, but he has the experience and athleticism to be a ball hawk. 6-3, 220-pound senior Thaad Thompson has tremendous speed and great range to go along with his excellent size. The former JUCO transfer came up with 27 tackles, but he didn't do anything against the pass.
Watch Out For … Ashley. The former quarterback was supposed to be a jack-of-all-trades playmaker in a slash role. He never really fit what the offense wanted to do, and now he should be strong, athletic safety who should be all over the field following a decent first year in the defensive backfield.
Strength: Experience. Ashley is like having a fourth starter to combine with the other three regulars. Grymes and Patten went through the wars last season, and Harvey is ready to step in and play a bigger role. Walker should be solid with his years under the belt.
Weakness: Big plays. Idaho won all its games when the secondary came up with two picks. Unfortunately, there were only three of those games. After making six interceptions in the first five games, the Vandals came up with one in the next five games. More than that, the defensive backs have to come up with the plays to get the defense off the field.
Outlook: The production started to improve last year with help from the pass rush, and while the secondary wasn't a brick wall, it was better. Now with so much experience and a great corner to work around in Grymes, the potential is there for another big step up.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: Junior Trey Farquhar earned Second Team All-WAC honors two years ago and had an even stronger sophomore season nailing 18-of-25 field goals with two of the misses coming from 56 and 50 yards out. He has a good deep leg, connecting on 50-yard shot against UNLV, but he also missed a few chippies including a 35-yarder against San Jose State and a 26-yarder against Hawaii.
Also back is junior Bobby Cowan, who bombed away for 45.1 yards per kick with 16 put inside the 20 and with 11 fair catches on the way to a First Team All-WAC season. Idaho finished 12th in the nation and first in the WAC in net punting.
The kickoff return game was excellent, but the punt returns were a disaster. Justin Veltung averaged 22.9 yards per kickoff return, and now it'll be an open casting call for the job. Shiloh Keo averaged just 4.4 yards per punt return, and now the job is up for grabs.
Watch Out For … Farquhar to get even more attempts from deep. The coaching staff isn't afraid to let him give it a try from 50 yards out, and after two years of experience, he'll be relied on even more.
Strength: The kicking game. Farquhar and Cowan form the best kicking tandem in the WAC and they should make a huge difference in close games.
Weakness: Punt returns and coverage teams. The Vandals have to get more pop to the nation's 112th ranked punt return game, but the biggest problem over the last few years has been the coverage teams. The Vandals allowed 24.7 yards per kickoff return and a whopping 11 yards per punt return. This team can't give away field position.
Outlook: Like last year, the kicking game should be fantastic, but there are major question marks about the return game and the coverage teams have to be far, far, far, better.
Unit Rating: 6
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