2013 Utah State Preview - Defense

Posted May 1, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Utah State Aggie Defense

Utah State Aggies

Preview 2013 - Defense

- 2013 Utah State Preview | 2013 Utah State Offense
- 2013 Utah State Defense | 2013 Utah State Depth Chart 

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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has plenty of talent to work with, but he's going to have a tough time repeating the production of last year's defense. The Aggies came up with a brilliant campaign, finishing 14th in the nation in total defense and seventh in scoring D helped by a pass rush that brought the heat from all sides and was dominant against the run. The linebacking corps should be among the best in the Mountain West with Zach Vigil and Jake Doughty a devastating twosome. The front three is big and active with Connor Williams an elite pass rusher, while corner Nevin Lawson will be one of the league's better all-around corners. The depth is a bit lacking and a few parts are missing, but it should be business as usual.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jake Doughty, 109
Sacks: Connor Williams, 6
Interceptions: Kyler Fackrell, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Zach Vigil
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior S Maurice Alexander
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Michael Okonkwo
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Connor Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Virgil, 2) LB Jake Doughty, 3) CB Nevin Lawson
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Run Defense
Weakness of the defense: Secondary Depth, Second Corner

Defensive Line

The defensive line that was so solid should be even stronger with most of the key parts back. Senior Connor Williams was the team's top pass rusher with six sacks and 32 tackles. At 6-3 and 278 pounds, he's like an extra defensive tackle in the 3-4 after bulking up a little bit. While he's not a speed rusher, he finds ways to get into the backfield.

Senior B.J. Larsen is a strong 6-5, 271-pounder who holds up well against the run making 19 tackles, but he's also good at getting behind the line with four sacks and five tackles for loss. He's a pass rusher, but 6-5, 260-pound sophomore Jordan Nielsen has bigger upside coming off an all-star season making 35 tackles with five sacks. Quick off the ball, he's athletic and great at getting around the edge. On the inside, 6-3, 307-pound senior A.J. Pataiali'i took over the starting job late in the season getting the call in two of the final three games. With nice size on the nose, he has the ability to grow into a rock of an anchor after making 24 stops.

Watch Out For … the backups in the interior. The ends are set, and now it's up to the backups to come up big, literally, on the inside behind Pataiali'i. 6-2, 298-pound junior Elvis Kamana-Matagi got in a little work last season, but he needs to grow into more of an interior pass rusher. 6-2, 310-pound sophomore Travis Seefeldt is a good-sized tough guy on the nose making ten tackles in his first year.
Strength: Ends. Williams, Nielsen and Larsen are big and can move just enough to bother quarterbacks. The sack production comes from all spots on the front seven, but the pressure stars with the ends.
Weakness: Experienced tackles. Pataiali'I grew into the job as last year went on, but he still needs to show he can handle the job on the nose for the entire year. The rotation has to be consistent from the start.
Outlook: The front three is big, active and good at holding up against the run. The pass rush improved while the run defense became a rock allowing the linebackers to roam free. The line does the dirty work for the rest of the D, and this group should get the job done.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Loaded, loaded, loaded. The linebacking corps had to try to move on without Bobby Wagner, and it did the job helped mostly by senior Jake Doughty, a tough guy of an inside playmaker who led the team with 109 tackles with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. The 6-0, 230-pound veteran is the tone-setter for the defense with big hitting ability for his size, while fellow inside linebacker Zach Vigil is more of a pass rusher finishing second on the team with 105 stops to go along with 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. He came to Utah State as a 203-pound safety-sized prospect who was immediately asked to beef up to grow into a linebacker role. Up to 231 pounds on his 6-2 frame, he did just that. Behind Doughty is Tavaris McMillian, a key backup who made 39 tackles with two sacks. At 6-2 and 235 pounds he has great size and the ability to make things happen from any spot.

The outside isn't as disruptive as the interior, but it's still solid. 6-5, 245-pound sophomore Kyler Fackrell took over the starting job right away and never let it go, finishing fourth on the team with 87 tackles with three sacks and eight tackles for loss. Great against the pass, he came up with seven broken up passes and three picks, proving to be great at hanging with the running backs in pass patterns while also showing a great burst as a pass rusher. Trying to take over on the other side is 6-1, 220-pound senior Terrell Thompson, a veteran backup who made just five tackles last season. 6-1, 219-pound sophomore Michael Okonkwo adds more speed and athleticism as a dangerous pass rushing option.

Watch Out For … Bojay Filimoeatu's outside linebacker spot. The only starter gone from the mix, he was a key part of the puzzle and will be missed. However, Thompson and Okonkwo can move and should be able to combine to replace Filimoeatu's five sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Strength: Pass rushers. Doughty, Vigil and Fackrell are outstanding at holding up against the run and they're tough when they have to be, but they're at their best when turned loose. Doughty isn't as much of a pass rusher, but he moves well and always gets around the ball.
Weakness: Backup experience on the outside. The starting four should be solid, and there will be tremendous production across the board, but it gets a bit thin on the outside. Okonkwo will be fine, but it could take a little while to find the right fit.
Outlook: A big concern going into last year now might be the team's second biggest strength behind the offensive line. Doughty and Vigil form a devastating 1-2 tandem, while the outside defenders in the 3-4 will come together. This will be a very active, very good group of playmakers.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Some replacements are needed in the defensive backfield, but junior strong safety Brian Suite is back after starting the last 12 games finishing with 73 tackles. The 6-3, 205-pounder doesn't do much against the pass, but he's outstanding against the run and active in the open field. He showed what he could do healthy after missing all of 2011 with a shoulder injury, and he should once again be one of the team's leading hitters. Joining him now at safety is senior Maurice Alexander, a big free safety who didn't play last season made 45 tackles with three sacks two years ago. At 6-2 and 212 pounds, he's an intimidating force who'll be a statistical star.

Senior Nevin Lawson is back at one corner spot coming off a second straight big year. The 5-10, 186-pound Florida native made 73 tackles two years ago and followed it up with 63 stops with two sacks and ten broken up passes. With tremendous speed and athleticism he's a fantastic cover corner, but he's not a pickoff artist. Even so, he's great when the ball is in the air. Taking over on the other side is senior Devonta Glover-Wright, a 6-0, 170-pound all-around playmaker who saw time on offense catching five passes and double-dipping on D making 17 tackles with a start at safety. Extremely fast, he has the athleticism, but he'll be tested. 5-11, 185-pound junior Rashard Stewart has seen enough time to be part of the corner rotation making nine tackles with a broken up pass. Extremely quick, he's not the athlete Glover-Wright is, but he can move.

Watch Out For … Quinton Byrd. Back after missing almost all of last year with a knee injury, he's a leader at corner and in nickel situations. He only made three tackles before going down, but he's back and should be a key jack-of-all-trades.
Strength: Not allowing the big play. The Aggies didn't face too many passing teams, but helped by the pass rush, the secondary phenomenal in pass efficiency defense finishing eighth in the nation. The allowed just 12 touchdowns on the season, but …
Weakness: Teams that can actually throw. The stats are a bit of a mirage. Playing UNLV, Texas State and Idaho helped the cause, but Louisiana Tech and San Jose State bombed away at will. The Aggies won both games, but the secondary was lit up.
Outlook: There might be some missing pieces, but the secondary should be fine as long as the pass rush is consistent. Lawson is a good one, and Suite is a hitter, but corner Will Davis will be sorely missed and there will be times against the better passers when things break down. The stats will be better than the talent.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

Both placekickers are back to be used depending on the situation. Junior Nick Diaz is used for the deeper field goals hitting 5-of-7 shots from beyond 40 including a 53-yarder against New Mexico State. Senior Josh Thompson is used for the closer kicks, but he missed two of four from inside the 39 including a 37-yard game-winning try against Wisconsin.

Punter Tyler Bennett did a phenomenal job of putting the ball in the right spot putting 33 inside the 20 and forcing a whopping 28 fair catches. He averaged 41.9 yards per try, and now it'll be up to junior Jason Bentrude, who averaged just 29 yards on his two kicks and has to show off his big leg from the start.

The return game loses both Cameron Webb and Chuck Jacobs, but running back Joe Hill is a speedster who should be solid as a kickoff returner. Sophomore Bruce Natson is a quick option on punt returns, while big receiver Travis Van Leeuwen is a dangerous speedster.

Watch Out For … Bentrude. It's asking a lot to replace everything that Bennett did, but Bentrude has a huge leg and should be able to air it out without a problem.
Strength: Veteran placekickers. It might not be an ideal situation, but Diaz and Thompson know what they're doing and should be a bit more consistent. The short and long range options should find a nice groove.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. Utah State was supposed to dominate in the return game, and while it was good, the opponents were better overall with two touchdowns averaging 21.7 yards per try.
Outlook: The kicking game has some work to do and some things to prove, but the return game should be a positive. If the punting can be as close to as effective, there will be reason to be fired up.
Unit Rating: 5.5

- 2013 Utah State Preview | 2013 Utah State Offense
- 2013 Utah State Defense | 2013 Utah State Depth Chart