2013 San Jose State Preview – Defense

Posted May 14, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - San Jose State Spartan Defense

San Jose State Spartans

Preview 2013 - Defense

- 2013 San Jose State Preview | 2013 San Jose State Offense
- 2013 San Jose State Defense | 2013 San Jose State Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The defense came up with a phenomenal season with a night-and-day different in the pass rush and huge improvement against the run. After allowing 204 yards per game on the ground and generating 16 sacks, the Spartans ripped off 42 tackles and allowed a paltry 122 rushing yards per game. There might be some key losses in the secondary, and losing pass rushing star Travis Johnson hurts, but the new 3-4 alignment should take advantage of the hybrid prospects on the outside while relying on tackle Travis Raciti to get behind the line on a regular basis. Outside linebacker Vince Buhaguar, inside linebacker Keith Smith and corner Bene Benwikere are all all-star candidates to rebuild around.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Keith Smith, 97
Sacks: Travis Raciti, 8.5
Interceptions: Bene Benwikere, 7

Star of the defense: Senior LB Keith Smith
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior FS Damon Ogburn
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Tony Popovich
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Travis Raciti
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) CB Bene Benwikere, 3) Raciti
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Aggressiveness
Weakness of the defense: Safeties, No Travis Johnson

Defensive Line

The 3-4 defensive front loses pass rushing terror Travis Johnson, but it has a star in defensive tackle Travis Raciti, a five-technique pass rusher coming up with 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss with 52 stops, highlighted by two sacks against Colorado State while doing a consistent job all season long against the run. Originally signed as a tight end, he's extremely quick and too fast off the ball for most interior linemen, and now it'll be his job to be the main man to get to the quarterback on a regular basis.

Senior Anthony Larceval is another quick pass rusher in the interior, but the 6-2, 285-pound veteran will mostly work on the nose after making 43 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Better suited as a 4-3 tackle rather than an end, he's going to have to show he can be more of a run stopper. He's coming back off a bad illness that kept him out of the Military Bowl, but he'll quickly get back into the rotation up front.

Sophomore Tony Popovich is going from being a big backup defensive end to a quick defensive tackle, using his 6-2, 273-pound size to try clogging things up against the run, but he's a pass rusher who should be able to get behind the line from time to time. He only made four tackles last season, but he came up with a sack and recovered a fumble. He'll combine at one tackle spot with junior Marcus Howard, a large 6-2, 300-pound junior who made eight tackles with a tackle for loss, but could do more at either tackle spot or on the nose.

Built for one of the other tackle spots, 6-3, 278-pound junior Foloi Vae will get the call on the nose, needing to use his good strength and toughness to hold up as an anchor to let everyone work around him. He made seven tackles with an interception in his limited time, but now he has to play a bigger, different role. 6-1, 286-pound sophomore Nate Falo is a bigger option on the nose, but he needs time up front and needs lots of seasoning. He might not be a pass rusher, but he's built for the position.

Watch Out For … the new defensive tackles. The Spartans came up with a nice haul of defensive linemen in their 2013 recruiting class. Christopher Gonzalez and Travis Miller are defensive tackles with the potential and talent to get on the field early on, with the 6-4, 295-pound Miller the best on the lot. Extremely athletic and a great pass rusher, he has all-star upside, while the 6-3, 240-pound Gonzalez will eventually be used in a variety of ways with his motor and strength making him a dangerous prospect.
Strength: Size. This is a good-sized defense front for the front three with everyone around 275 pounds or bigger, and everyone can move. The pass rush should continue to be fantastic, but in a different way.
Weakness: Travis Johnson. While he would've been an outside linebacker in the current defensive scheme, he'll be missed no matter what after cranking out 13 sacks with 21.5 tackles for loss. He might have been hot-and-cold, getting four of his sacks against UC Davis, but he was the tone-setter.
Outlook: The outside linebackers might do more of the pass rushing, but Raciti is still a tremendous talent who'll get behind the line from time to time. The run defense is the key for the front three, needing to use its bulk to hold up on a regular basis.
Unit Rating: 5.5


With 317 career tackles, 6-1, 229-pound senior Keith Smith is back for one final year as one of the nation's top tackling machines. The model of consistency, he's not all that big, but he holds up well and always gets all over the field making plays, coming up with 19 stops against BYU and 13 against Stanford on the way to making a team-leading 97 stops. While he's built like a big safety, he also covers like one breaking up eight passes and doing a great job of hanging with the quicker targets. While he's not going to be much of a pass rusher, he can get behind the line when sent.

Lining up next to Smith on the inside is Christian Tago, a 6-2, 215-pound redshirt freshman with tremendous athleticism and a world of upside once he figures out what he's doing. A top prospect out of last year's recruiting class, the big question was where he'd play. A great high school quarterback, he was quickly moved over to the defensive side and now should be one of the team's best tacklers. He'll be backed up by 6-0, 225-pound Moses Saucedo, a high school defensive end and a powerful interior presence at linebacker. A pass rusher, he could be moved to the outside.

6-4, 237-pound senior Vince Buhagiar is a veteran who can do a little bit of everything, finishing second on the team with 89 tackles with three sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Built for the new responsibilities as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he has 228 career stops and should now become a devastating pass rusher when allowed to get moving behind the line. While he's okay in pass coverage, he should make up for it as a playmaker behind the line. He'll play in a rotation with junior Derek Muaava, who stepped up as a part of the rotation making 23 tackles with three tackles for loss before getting knocked out with a knee injury. At 6-0 and 235 pounds, he brings decent size to the outside with great cutting ability and speed for his size.

JUCO transfer Garrett Guanella will likely take over one of the starting jobs on the outside right away as a hybrid pass rusher. At 6-5 and 235 pounds he's more of a defensive end than a true linebacker, but he'll function in both roles. Expect him to be an instant pass rusher, while 6-3, 226-pound junior Sean Bacon is another hybrid who should grow into a dangerous playmaker on the outside. He only saw time in eight games making nine tackles with a tackle for loss, but he has a nice burst and he's still growing into his frame – there's tremendous upside.

Watch Out For … Adrian Blake, who, like Guanella, is a defensive end who'll be turned into a pass rushing outside linebacker. The 6-3, 255-pound junior out of Miami went to San Jose City College last season making 106 tackles and 21.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons, and now the dream is that he'll become another Travis Johnson.
Strength: Pass rush on the outside. The 3-4 will be designed to make the outside linebackers into stars, and with Smith patrolling the inside, Buhaguar, Muaava, Guanella and Bacon should be able to rock into the backfield.
Weakness: Veteran depth. There might be some good-looking options across the board, but the new system means lots of quality linebackers will be needed to work in the mix. It might take a little while to find the right backups for the right spots.
Outlook: The ultra-aggressive linebacking corps of the last few seasons should be able to do even more, and while the outside linebackers will really be used like defensive ends, they'll have the ability to shine in a variety of areas. Smith will be an all-star again in the interior.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Senior Bene Benwikere is coming off a phenomenal season worthy of All-America honors making 67 tackles with seven picks, four broken up passes, two recovered fumbles and 7.5 tackles for loss. The 6-0, 192-pound corner is a fast veteran playmaker who's solid in man coverage and makes huge things happen with the ball in his hands, returning a pick for a touchdown against Idaho and coming up with 152 yards on his interception returns. He's a good hitter for his size with the ability to work at safety, but he's too good at corner to move around.

6-0, 194-pound sophomore Jimmy Pruitt spent last season as an understudy behind Benwikere at corner making 41 tackles with a pick and a team-leading 11 broken up passes. A nickel and dime defender who showed he could produce whenever given the chance, he'll thrive in the left corner spot and should have plenty of chances with teams staying away from the other side.

Sophomore Simon Connette is a good-hitting special teamer who made six tackles last season. The 5-11, 209-pounder has good range and upside with the toughness to grow into a top tackler against the run at strong safety. He'll be backed up by Akeem King, a 6-3, 214-pound junior who started out his career as a dangerous wide receiver prospect but moved over to the defensive side. He has the size and the athleticism, but he has to prove he can handle the work in the defensive backfield.

5-11, 180-pound senior Damon Ogburn, Jr. only saw time in eight games, but he was a factor when he got his chances making 23 tackles with three tackles for loss. A corner by trade, he'll work at free safety using his physical ability in a better role – the former quarterback and receiver is always going to be around the ball. Sophomore Travis Talianko is a good-hitting backup who could see plenty of time in nickel and dime packages.

Watch Out For … Esston Al-Uqdah, a dangerous JUCO transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College with 6-0, 200-pound size and huge hitting skills. A pure safety, he could step in and quickly take over either job.
Strength: Corner. Helped by a superior pass rush, the secondary had a terrific 2012 season. Now with Benwikere and Pruitt back, the secondary should be terrific on the outside. The safeties will be fine in time, but they're going to need a little seasoning.
Weakness: Good passing teams. The stats are misleading considering Navy, Texas State and a slew of other mediocre passing attacks were on the schedule. Louisiana Tech's high-powered offense cranked up 483 yards and four scores, Utah State was able to throw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and even UTSA and BYU were able to put up huge numbers.
Outlook: The secondary came up with 15 picks and allowed 18 scoring passes, doing a nice job overall and not getting picked apart too often. It's going to take some adjusting with so many new parts playing key roles, but Benwikere is a big-time talent to start with, and hopefully everything else will fall into place.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Sophomore Austin Lopez was supposed to be fine, but he was more than fantastic nailing all 17 of his field goal attempts. He might not have a monster leg, Harrison Ward handles the kickoffs, but he connected on all three of his attempts from beyond 40 yards, topping out with a 45-yarder against Louisiana Tech. Nine of his field goals came from under 30 yards, but again, he didn't miss.

The punting wasn't special, but Waid averaged 42.3 yards per kick putting 16 inside the 20. The five touchbacks were a few too many, and he didn't blast away too much, but he was consistent.

The punt return game struggled way too much with Ronnie Yell averaging 2.8 yards per try, but the kickoff return game was outstanding with Tyler Ervin averaging a whopping 27.2 yards per try with two scores. He'll get a shot on punt returns, too.

Watch Out For … more deep shots from Lopez. He earned the right to get a few 50-yard tries. He has a decent leg, but not a cannon. Even so, he'll get a few chances to expand his range and see if his accuracy will hold from deep.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Beyond Lopez, the kickoff return game was a major plus leading the WC and finishing tenth in the nation. Ervin is a special north-south playmaker.
Weakness: Punt returns. Nothing worked. Bene Benwikere's 24-yard try bailed out a brutal year from Yell, and now the new coaching staff has to come up with an option.
Outlook: The coverage teams were good enough to get by and Lopez turned out to be a major find. Waid is a solid punter and the kickoff return game was elite, so as long as Lopez gets the job done again and Ervin can continue to be a weapon, the special teams will be a major strength.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2013 San Jose State Preview | 2013 San Jose State Offense
- 2013 San Jose State Defense | 2013 San Jose State Depth Chart