2011 Utah State Preview - Defense
Utah State LB Bobby Wagner
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Utah State Aggie Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: It's been a rough first few seasons for the Aggie defense, and now head coach Gary Andersen will take over the coordinator duties while Bill Busch will deal with the special teams and defensive backs. The strength is in the linebacking corps where Bobby Wagner and Kyle Gallagher should challenge for all-star honors and should combined for well over 200 tackles. They'll get the chances to make plays with a smallish front three needing to do far, far more to be productive. The key to the defense, and maybe the season, could be JUCO transfer Evan Huahulu, a 6-2, 351-pound rock for the nose. He has to be great, the rest of the front seven has to get into the backfield, and the quick secondary has to get more of a break.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Bobby Wagner
Tackles: Bobby Wagner, 133
Sacks: Levi Koskan, 4.5
Interceptions: Quinton Byrd, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior NG Evan Huahulu
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Tavaris McMillian
Best pro prospect: Wagner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wagner, 2) LB Kyle Gallagher, 3) SS Walter McClenton
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Secondary Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, D Line Size
State of the Unit: The defensive front was a disaster once again last season. The hope was for the quickness across the front four to turn into production, but the Aggies finished 109th in the nation in sacks, 117th in tackles for loss, and last in the WAC in both. The run defense had its moments, but it got shoved around by anyone who wanted to try.
The Aggies need senior Quinn Garner to start being a bigger factor. The 6-3, 253-pound veteran came up with 43 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and five tackles for loss with a pick, and while he's more of a linebacker than an end, he has the potential to be the team's best pass rusher. In a perfect world, he's a hybrid type on the outside, but he'll have to serve as a 3-4 end and will have to hold up against the run.
Working on the other side is 6-4, 241-pound senior Levi Koskan, a decent pass rusher who led the team with 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss along with 41 tackles. He's not all that big and he's more of a pure pass rusher than a run stuffer, and he has to use his quickness off the ball to make things happen in the backfield.
Trying to anchor the line in the middle is Evan Huahulu, a massive body who's desperately needed for the smallish line. The former SMU Mustang sat out last year after going the JUCO route, and now he needs to be a true nose guard who serves as a top run stopper. At 6-2 and 351 pounds, he's the team's biggest lineman and he has to hold up.
Looking to see time in the rotation on the end are 6-2, 279-pound redshirt freshman Elvis Kamana-Matagi and 6-3, 280-pound JUCO transfer Al Lapuaho, who are both bigger options than Garner. They're needed to beef up the run defense, while 6-3, 248-pound sophomore Connor Williams will be needed for his speed as more of a pass rushing threat.
The Aggies will rely on two smallish redshirt freshmen, 6-5, 253-pound B.J. Larson and 6-1, 258-pound Tevita Vaifoou to work in a rotation on the nose, but 6-2, 270-pound JUCO transfer Sean Gibson needs to make the biggest splash. He has the size to play inside or out.
Watch Out For … Huahulu. The difference in the Aggie defensive front could be night-and-day if the JUCO transfer can be the anchor in the middle from the start. His raw bulk is a must.
Strength: Quickness. The only way this works is if the undersized linemen can use their speed and athleticism to fly around the ball. Utah State basically uses a bunch of linebackers on the outside and a big body on the nose.
Weakness: Production. This is a shockingly small line. Take Huahulu out of the mix and the line averages around 255 pounds per man.
Outlook: Can the Aggies stop anyone? The line came up with just 13 sacks, a mere 46 tackles for loss, and allowed 179 rushing yards per game and 30 scores. The line has to find something it can do well, and it has to sell out to start getting to the quarterback.
Unit Rating: 4
State of the Unit: The linebackers have had to clean up way too many messes from a bad defensive line. The four in the 3-4 have had to do a little bit of everything and they make a ton of tackles, but they come down the field and there isn't enough disruption. With a ton of returning production, the hope is there for a bigger season and for more big plays against the run.
The star of the defensive front seven will once again be Bobby Wagner, a 6-1, 232-pound senior who followed up a 115-stop season with 133 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and four broken up passes. He bulked up to get to his current weight, but it didn't slow him down after starting out his career as a Rover and a pass rushing end. While he can work on the outside, he's the team's biggest linebacker and is needed on the inside to hold up against the better running teams. He'll always be around the ball. Always.
Serving as a strong running mate to Wagner will once again be Kyle Gallagher, a 6-0, 219-pound senior who finished second on the team with 91 tackles with four tackles for loss. A speedy option, he took over the starting job by the end of 2009 and hasn't let it go. While not built for the inside, he's a fearless hitter who gets all over the field and isn't afraid to come up with the big pop.
6-2, 222-pound sophomore Zach Vigil came to school as a 203-pound safety-sized prospect who was immediately asked to beef up to handle the work at linebacker. He'll get the call on the outside after waiting his turn, and now he'll needs to use his speed and quickness, along with his toughness, to quickly become a stat-sheet filler. Redshirt freshman Tavaris McMillian has the potential to be a great one on the other side with a little bit of time. At 6-2 and 223 pounds, he has decent size and can be used as a pass rusher.
The main inside backup will be sophomore Jake Doughty, a 6-0, 225-pound big hitter who made 22 tackles with a tackle for loss. He can play anywhere in the linebacking corps, but he's at his best in the middle of action. Gavin Jones was a top safety prospect before moving over to linebacker, and while he's only 6-3 and 202 pounds, he's a good hitter when he gets his chance. He only made nine tackles last year, but he'll be a key contributor on the outside with McMillian.
Watch Out For … McMillian. With his size and his quickness, he'll be used in a variety of ways to get into the backfield. Utah State needs a steady pass rusher, and the redshirt freshman might be it.
Strength: Wagner and Gallagher. They might not be the most talented linebackers in the WAC, but they could be the most productive duo. Be shocked if they don't come up with well over 200 stops.
Weakness: Plays behind the line. The Aggie linebackers are solid against the run, but they're not disruptive enough. There aren't enough big plays.
Outlook: Wagner and Gallagher should be in all-stars, but the corps needs more from the outside. It'll be an ongoing fight to find the right backups, but the inside playmakers should be a major plus if everyone can stay healthy.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: The secondary looked the part last year and had all the speed and athleticism needed to come up with a good season, but with no pass rush whatsoever to help the cause, there were problems. The Aggies finished 106th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 250 yards per game, but it didn't allow too many big plays and was fourth in the WAC in pass efficiency defense.
With starting corners Chris Randle and Curtis Marsh gone, it'll be up to sophomores Cameron Sanders and Nevin Lawson to take over. The 5-10, 173-pound Sanders started out his career at receiver but moved over to corner where he came up with a strong season in nickel and dime packages making 28 tackles with three broken up passes. An Oklahoma state champion sprinter, he has the necessary wheels, while the 5-10, 177-pound Lawson is more quick than fast. The Floridian saw a little time last season making 12 tackles with a pick, and now one of the corner jobs is all his.
The lone returning regular starter is senior Walter McClenton, a 5-11, 193-pound veteran who finished third on the team with 62 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss at strong safety, but he'll now likely move to free safety. After struggling to get his career going after suffering an early injury, he went from being a top backup to one of the team's most reliable defenders. He's ultra-aggressive, but he has to avoid getting hurt again after missing a little time last year.
6-2, 189-pound junior Dontel Watkins and 5-11, 183-pound junior McKade Brady will see time at several spots. Brady, a free safety, got the start last year against Nevada and has good range and hitting ability making 17 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss in his limited time. Watikins is the better overall prospect coming in from the JUCO ranks and with the versatility to play either safety or corner. The team's leading receiver last year, making 42 catches for 492 yards and four scores, he's needed more in the secondary where he'll do a little bit of everything for the pass defense. With his size and his athleticism, he should put up nice numbers.
Junior Quinton Byrd was one of the team's most important backup defensive backs, working in several spots, making 31 tackles while tying for the team lead with three picks. The 5-11, 179-pounder is a natural corner, but he's being used as a nickel back and as a jack-of-all-trades with his excellent speed and range.
Watch Out For … Watkins. It's an interesting move to take the top receiver and move him over, but Watkins is a more natural defensive back and the Aggies are healthy again at wideout. With his size and range, he's an intriguing free safety prospect.
Strength: Quickness. The coaching staff has done a good job of upgrading the speed and athleticism in the secondary over the last few seasons, and now it should pay off. This isn't an experienced group, but everyone can move.
Weakness: The pass rush. The secondary got lit up from time to time, but it wasn't a liability, for the most part. There might be a major change in personnel this year, but enough talent returns to hope for a good season if, and it's a big if, the defensive front can touch a quarterback for the first time in a few years.
Outlook: There's plenty of speed and athleticism to go around, and there are several good young options, but the secondary might not hit its stride until next year when everyone is back, and the overall results could be mediocre if the pass rush doesn't help the cause.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: After years of Peter Caldwell handling the kicking duties for years, and hitting just 10-of-15 field goal attempts last season, it'll be up to sophomore Nick Diaz, who has a strong leg, but can't be counted on to be deadly accurate. He only hit 4-of-7 field goals in high school, but he has range. He'll also replace Caldwell as the team's punter, and he has to be consistent after the Aggies netted 35.5 yards per kick.
The kickoff return game was the best in the WAC and should be among the best in the country again with now-receiver Kerwynn Williams back after averaging 27.2 yards per try. He'll also see time as a punt returner averaging 9.2 yards on his four tries, but the bulk of the work will go to Eric Moats, who struggled last year averaging 2.9 yards per try.
Watch Out For … A fight for at least one of the starting jobs. The pressure is on Diaz to do everything, but redshirt freshman Jaron Bentrude has a big leg and should challenge for a spot. The jury is out on whether or not Diaz can do it all.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Unfortunately, there are plenty of opportunities. On the plus side, Williams can produce and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches it.
Weakness: Punt returns. Moats will get another shot, but he has to be far, far better. Williams could get more work if there isn't more pop.
Outlook: The special teams should be great when it comes to the return game – the punt returns will be better – but the kicking game will be very, very iffy. The coverage teams aren't bad, but better field position is a must for the Aggies.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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