2013 Fresno State Preview – Defense

Posted May 3, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Fresno State Bulldog Defense

Fresno State Bulldogs

Preview 2013 - Defense

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

What You Need To Know: The new coaching staff was supposed to come in with a reputation for cranking up the defense, and boy did Tim DeRuyter and defensive coordinator Nick Toth do their jobs. Helped by a defensive front that got to the quarterback on a regular basis, cranking out 40 sacks on the year and 94 tackles for loss to turn up the intensity, everything else worked from there with the secondary getting time to dominate and make big plays. The Bulldogs finished second in the nation in pass defense and fourth in pass efficiency defense, and while the numbers are inflated a bit with few teams on the schedule who could throw, the defensive backs really were that good. Dominant safety Phillip Thomas is gone, but the rest of the key parts are back.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Derron Smith, 79
Sacks: Andy Jennings, 5.5
Interceptions: Derron Smith, 6

Star of the defense: Junior S Derron Smith
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore S Charles Washington
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Kyrie Wilson
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Andy Jennings
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) Jennings, 3) CB L.J. Jones
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Pass Defense
Weakness of the defense: Strength Against The Run, Healthy Inside Linebackers  

Defensive Line

The Bulldogs were tremendous at getting into the backfield, with one of the biggest changes in the Tim DeRuyter era coming on the defensive front and the pressure on the quarterback. Senior end Andy Jennings did the most to take is game to another level, doing next to nothing as a sophomore and then exploding last season cranking out a team-leading 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss with 33 stops. The 6-2, 278-pounder is a perfect 3-4 end, firing quickly off the ball and with excellent closing ability. The second-team All-Mountain West performer will be backed up by senior Ben Letcher, a 6-2, 241-pound senior who was decent in the rotation making 14 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss. All back full from a knee injury that cost him his sophomore season, he should be more of a pass rushing specialist.

Working on the other side will once again by senior Nikko Motta, a 6-2, 285-pound fireplug who took over the job midway through the season and started the rest of the way making 20 tackles with three sacks and six tackles for loss. He's not the pass rusher that Jennings is, but he can off the line in a hurry. 6-2, 260-pound sophomore Todd Hunt hit the weights hard in his year off recovering from a torn ACL, and soon he'll be one of the team's most active players. It's his starting job next season.

The solid front three will be anchored by junior Tyeler Davison, a 6-2, 311-pound first-team All-Mountain West star who held firm on the nose making 43 tackles, but he also found ways into the backfield making three sacks and seven tackles for loss with a team-leading seven quarterback hurries. A disruptive force, he's smart, tough and quick for his size. He's a leader who handles the role well. 6-3, 296-pound sophomore Maurice Poyadue will be the main backup inside, but he could swing outside and play a 3-4 end or see time as a 4-3 tackle if the alignment changes up.

Watch Out For … true freshman Ryan Steele. A fireplug of a nose guard, the 6-0, 289-pound rock is a tough athlete in the middle with the ability to become an interior pass rusher. He'll get a few years to get a bit bigger and stronger, but he should grow into a starter and anchor.
Strength: Pass rush. The Bulldogs can bring it from all three spots with Jennings, Motta and Davison all threats to get into the backfield. The DeRuyter was fantastic at getting the defenders into the backfield at Texas A&M, and he'll be able to keep the production going after a great first year.
Weakness: Stuffing the run. Considering the size and the activity, this group should be better at holding up against the better running teams. Getting blown away by Oregon is one thing, but most teams with decent ground attacks were able to product without too much of a problem. If anyone wants to bring the power, there are problems.
Outlook: It's a reach to call this a finesse line, but it's a big front three full of athletes who can make big things happen and aren't afraid to take a few chances. There should be a great rotation and even more strong numbers after a great turnaround year. If the run defense is a wee bit stronger, this could be among the best lines in the Mountain West.
Unit Rating: 7


There's plenty of uncertainty in the linebacking corps, but junior Donavon Lewis is a given, returning to his spot on the outside after coming up with 36 tackles with four sacks and ten tackles for loss starting every game. A decent veteran, he's an active 6-2, 240-pound pass rusher who can be used like an extra defensive end, with natural pass rushing skills and good range. Now he has to be stronger against the run.

6-2, 227-poud sophomore Kyrie Wilson isn't all that big, but he's fast on the inside at the weakside spot in the interior. Very fast and very athletic, he was a high school receiver with some of the best wheels on the defense, and now he has to use them more after making 20 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in a rotation. The burst is there to be dangerous, while 6-1, 240-pound senior Patrick Su'a provides more bulk and bigger pop. It was his job on the inside last season, making 37 tackles with a pick and three tackles for loss, but he suffered a knee injury and missed the second half of the season. He'll be coming back slowly, but he'll be a factor again.

Junior Karl Mickelsen will take over the other inside spot working on the strongside middle position. The 6-0, 224-pounder made 24 tackles with a sack, showing off glimpses of his big-hitting ability, and now he should be an intimidating force and top tackler in the front seven with the starting job all his. Very smart, he might be the quarterback of the D if he can hold off senior Jeremiah Toma, a 6-0, 230-pound veteran who missed the first part of the season hurt with a foot problem, but retuned over the second half of the year finishing with 31 tackles and two sacks. He's the captain and the leader, but Mickelsen could be the better option.

The combination of 6-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Hughes and 6-2, 240-pound senior Nat Harrison will work on the other outside spot on the other side of Donavon Lewis. Hughes isn't all that big built more like a safety, but he can really, really move. A high school track star, he'll look like he's been shot out of a cannon when he has to get to the quarterback. Harrison is a former defensive lineman who adds more bulk and can be like a 4-3 end when needed. Tough, he'll hold up well against the run after making 11 tackles.

Watch Out For … true freshman Steven Van Hook, who was a dominant high school pass rusher who'll quickly become a specialist on the outside who'll spend his career earholing quarterbacks. At 6-1 and 220 pounds, he's not all that big, but he doesn't take any wasted steps.
Strength: Pass rushing ability. Every Fresno State linebacker seems to have an innate ability to get behind the line and get to a quarterback. While the coaching staff won't ever send everyone from all four spots to get behind the line, anyone at any time can find a way to get to the quarterback.
Weakness: Injured size. There are several good-hitting options in the interior, but Su'a and Toma are the best run stoppers and both are banged up. Harrison and Lewis are big, but the outside defenders are more about getting behind the line and swarming to the ball.
Outlook: This should be a solid, strong foursome with good backup options and lots of versatility. It's going to be a little while before the right combination comes together, but there are plenty of good pieces to the puzzle. There's a little something for every style.
Unit Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Step One to repeating the great success of last year's pass defense will be to replace all-everything safety Phillip Thomas. Saddled with the unenviable task of replacing him is sophomore Charles Washington, a 5-11, 189-pound tackler who's smart enough to know what he's doing right away in the starting role, and active enough to put up nice numbers. A great special teamer so far, he also did a little bit for the secondary making 13 tackles with two broken up passes.

With Thomas gone, junior Derron Smith will get the spotlight as the new star for the secondary after finishing second on the team with 79 tackles with six picks. The 5-11, 194-pound playmaker earned first-team All-Mountain West honors making big play after big play, taking one interception to the house against Nevada and proving to be a steady open-field tackler after returning from a broken arm that knocked him out in 2011. The former high school quarterback has outstanding instincts and always seems to be one step ahead of the play.

Senior L.J. Jones turned in an all-star season locking down one corner spot and leading the team with 13 broken up passes to go along with 44 tackles with a pick. Tremendously fast with jump-out-of-the-stadium leaping ability, all the tools are there to go along with good recovery speed. He's not huge at 5-10 and 180 pounds, but he plays bigger. Working into the rotation behind Jones and in nickel and dime packages is Shannon Edwards, a 5-11, 180-pound sophomore who came to Fresno State as a receiver and quickly turned into a nice defensive player, making 11 tackles with a sack in his limited time.

5-10, 192-pound junior Sean Alston came up with an all-star season finishing fifth on the team with 51 tackles with five picks and six broken up passes. With excellent size and a nose for the ball, he's a great open-field tackler with the bulk and strength to beat up his man and get physical. While he's not the blazer that Jones is on the other side, he can move.

Watch Out For … corner Treshon Broughton, one of the team's better recruits with 6-0, 170-pound size and the tremendous quickness. A natural football player, he's great when the ball is in the air and has the instincts to always be around the big play.
Strength: Interceptions. A disastrous problem at the end of the Pat Hill era with 27 picks from 2006 to 2011, things have changed around in a hurry coming up with 22 last season.
Weakness: Phillip Thomas. He might not have won the Thorpe Award, but he was the nation's best defensive back last season making 84 tackles with four sacks, eight picks, four forced fumbles and 12 tackles for loss. It's more than just the stats; he did a little of everything for the secondary.
Outlook: Taking away Thomas is a big blow for the nation's second-ranked pass defense, but the corners are outstanding and Washington should do a solid job of stepping into the open safety slot. There's experience, speed and lots and lots of ball skills. Helped by a terrific pass rush up front, the secondary should shine once again.
Unit Rating: 8

Special Teams

Gone is placekicker Quentin Breshears, who nailed 12-of-15 field goals but didn't have huge range. Also gone is punter Andrew Shapiro, who averaged a solid 42 yards per kick with 12 put inside the 20. Sophomore Garrett Swanson will handle the punting duties after doing a great job on kickoffs last season. With a huge leg, he should average well over 40 yards per kick, and he can also push for the placekicking job. Former Washington State Blake Dunn will get his chances at the placekicking gig. He won't blast the ball, but he should be consistent in short-range.

Receiver Isaiah Burse averaged 22.4 yards per kickoff return, and now he'll handle more of the punt return duties after averaging 10.2 yards per pop. He's more explosive than Rashad Evans was last season.

Watch Out For … freshman Colin McGuire to push hard for the kicking job right away. He has the leg that Dunn doesn't, blasting a 53-yarder in high school with long range abilities. A good get for the program, he should be a factor sooner than later.
Strength: Kickoff coverage. The kicking and punting games will turn out to be fine, and Burse will do his job, but the coverage teams should shine the brightest right away. The kickoff coverage team will keep teams under 20 yards per pop.
Weakness: Sure-thing kickers. After a consistent and solid season from both the kickers last year, the Bulldogs have to start from scratch and hope for a true freshman (McGuire), a walk-on (Dunn) or an untested option (Swanson) to get the job done.
Outlook: The special teams didn't dominate, but they did a nice job and weren't a negative in any way. The kicking and punting games will need a boost, and the returners could come up with more pop, but overall the Bulldogs will be fine – but not elite.
Unit Rating: 6

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