2013 Washington State Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Washington State Cougar Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: All things being relative, Washington State took some forward steps in its first year under Mark Breske and his 3-4 alignment. But the Cougars are a long way off from being Pac-12-caliber on this side of the ball. The unit will continue to attack with a group of athletes who can cause problems in opposing backfields, yet often at their own expense. Wazzu lacks the size, depth and overall talent pool to keep pace with the league's better attacks; in the month of November, it yielded an average of 42 points over four games. The Cougs are going to feature playmakers on the front seven, such as linebackers Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen and tackles Xavier Cooper and Ioane Gauta. The secondary, though, will be easy pickings for quarterbacks, especially since BUCK Travis Long is no longer around to pressure the pocket the way he did the past few seasons. Washington State really needs someone, like Logan Mayes, to give the pass rush some teeth off the perimeter.
Star of the defense: Senior FS Deone Bucannon
Tackles: Deone Bucannon, 106
Sacks: Multiple players, 3
Interceptions: Deone Bucannon, 4
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior BUCK Logan Mayes
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Xavier Cooper
Best pro prospect: Bucannon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bucannon, 2) Sophomore LB Darryl Monroe, 3) Junior LB Cyrus Coen
Strength of the defense: Interior linemen, linebackers, safeties, pressuring the pocket
Weakness of the defense: Edge rushers, cornerbacks, pass defense, takeaways, third-down stops
A Wazzu D-line that played so chaotically well last season is getting a bit of a makeover now that hybrid pass rusher Travis Long has graduated. The Cougars figure to be considerably stronger from the inside this season, benefiting from the return of 6-4, 298-pound sophomore DT Xavier Cooper. The pleasant surprise debuted in 2012 by garnering honorable mention All-Pac-12 with 34 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss and three sacks in 11 games. He's far more agile than his size might indicate, and was recruited by much bigger programs until sketchy academics sent those schools running in the opposite direction.
Joining Cooper on the interior will be senior NT Ioane Gauta. He impressed throughout his first year removed from Fullerton (Calif.) Junior College, starting all 12 games and making 31 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, three sacks and an interception. He showed good agility and quickness at 305 pounds last year, and figures to be even more disruptive now that he's trimmed down to 6-3 and 286 pounds.
Providing insurance for Cooper at tackle will be 6-1, 300-pound junior Kalafitoni Pole.
The space-eater started a pair of games last season, recording 22 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. He had a run-in with the law following spring, a situation that has yet to fully sort itself out in the courts.
The frontrunner at the lone true defensive end spot is 6-2, 266-pound senior Matthew Bock. The former walk-on earned the first starts of his career in 2012, finishing with 14 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. He's a blue-collar, hard-working lineman who'll earn whatever it is he gets. Behind Bock is sophomore Destiny Vaeao, who started two games and made five tackles in his first year off the Samoan Islands. At 6-4 and 293 pounds, he brings strongside-type size to the run defense.
At the all-important Buck position, a hybrid between an end and an outside linebacker, 6-3, 241-pound junior Logan Mayes has taken the lead to succeed Long. The converted linebacker started three games in 2012, finishing with 26 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks. The staff is hopeful that he has the right combination of get-off and closing speed to rush the passer, without being a liability in coverage.
Watch Out For .... Mayes' ability to hold onto the starting job. The Buck is such an important position because of its versatility, requiring the starter to impact so many different areas of the defense. Mayes is a quality athlete, but it's doubtful he can approach the level of chaos generated by Long, who is now trying to make an NFL roster.
Strength: The interior of the line. All areas of this program should be as deep and as talented as the tackles. Gauta and Cooper were quietly effective in 2012, and both expect to be even better in their second year with the school. Plus, Pole is a quality veteran off the bench. The inside linemen had a key role in last year's No. 11 national rank in sacks and No. 6 Pac-12 ranking against the run.
Weakness: Production off the edge. How exactly does this team plan on replacing Long's 9.5 sacks from a year ago? Bock is a journeyman and not the answer. Mayes still has a lot to prove. After performing so unexpectedly well in 2012, the Washington State pass rush could be in store for a precipitous decline in output.
Outlook: All things considered, the Cougars ought to be very pleased with the line that it puts out this season. Yeah, there's going to be a void at BUCK, and Long won't easily be replaced. But, Wazzu will be surprisingly stout and disruptive from the inside, impacting the backfield with help from Cooper and Gauta. Mayes will be under the microscope as he attempts to ignite the pass rush.
Since the Cougars lose nothing from last season's corps of linebackers, it goes to figure that expectations are higher for the unit. It thrived in coordinator Mike Breske's blitz-heavy scheme, a blueprint that'll be employed again in 2013. Last year's second-leading tackler, sophomore Darryl Monroe, is going to become a fixture in the middle after making 80 stops, 8.5 stops for minus yards and three sacks. The 6-1, 235-pound honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick has added considerable weight and strength since arriving from Orlando, Fla., yet hasn't lost the range or closing speed that helped make him so effective a year ago. Beyond the measurables, Monroe is adored by the staff for his intangibles and toughness from the neck up.
Next to Monroe at strongside will be junior Cyrus Coen, who, like Monroe, was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 in his first significant action on the field. The nephew of legendary Wazzu QB Jack Thompson earned his second letter since walking on at Wazzu, starting 11 games, and finishing with 60 tackles, 12 stops for loss, three sacks and three picks. Yeah, at only 6-0 and 213 pounds, he's not the blueprint at this position, but he plays with the kind of passion, determination and urgency that makes the coaching staff wish it had 10 more like him.
Right now, the battle at weakside has boiled down to 6-0, 223-pound senior Justin Sagote versus 6-3, 217-pound sophomore Tana Pritchard. Sagote started the final 10 games in his first season out of College of San Mateo (Calif.), finishing with 61 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. But he missed time in the spring, and has left the door open for Pritchard, who has turned heads this offseason. The returning letterwinner and former Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year must add weight, but has the range and the athleticism that the team likes at linebacker. Not to be forgotten is 6-1, 224-pound junior Chester Su'a, the veteran of two letters and six starts who made a career-high 34 tackles in 2012.
The Cougars will have a couple of valuable veterans coming off the bench, seniors Eric Oertel and seniors Jared Byers at strongside and middle, respectively. The 6-0, 219-pound Byers made a relatively successful move from fullback last year, pitching in with 38 tackles. The speedy 6-1, 200-pound Oertel brings range and tenacity to the second level, making 35 stops, six tackles for loss and two sacks last year to earn his third career letter.
Watch Out For .... Monroe to start getting the recognition that he richly deserves. The program loves everything about its sophomore man in the middle. And why not? He's a very nice package of physical and intangible attributes who'd have a lot more notoriety if he wasn't conducting his business on the Palouse.
Strength: Range and closing speed. By design, all of the Cougars linebackers move very well laterally, and have the quickness to go from sideline to sideline in a hurry. They play with fresh legs and a ton of energy, employing the flexibility and athleticism to blitz the quarterback or seamlessly drop back into coverage. First and foremost, this is a crew of sideline-to-sideline athletes.
Weakness: Muscle. There's often a price to be paid for being small and quick on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, the Cougars can close quickly, but they'll occasionally get dragged for more yards upon reaching their destination. Monroe is the exception of a corps of linebackers that's really a bunch of glorified safeties.
Outlook: A liability at this time last year, the linebackers have come a long way in a short period of time. Sure, they'll be overmatched against the more physical opponents on the schedule, but they'll also roam the field with fearless abandon. This unit figures to be in on a lot of big plays this season, from stops for minus yards to tipped balls in coverage.
The Washington State secondary is a perennially troubled unit that yielded 26 touchdown throws in 2012, and ranked 98th nationally against the pass. The exception to the uncertainty and inconsistency on the last line of defense is senior FS Deone Bucannon. The fourth-year starter reached a new level of production a year ago, landing on the All-Pac-12 Second Team. The 6-1, 198-pound enforcer missed a game, yet still registered 106 tackles, the most by a Cougar since 1996, to go along with four interceptions. He plays with an NFL-caliber blend of skills, including the pop to deploy receivers' airbags and the ball skills of a seasoned cornerback.
With Bucannon settled in at free safety, 5-11, 195-pound senior Casey Locker is poised to handle strong safety this fall. The cousin of Jake Locker started all 10 of his games in 2012, getting in on 60 tackles. While not very big, he's a nasty hitter, who throws his body around the field as if channeling a young John Lynch. Locker won't offer much in pass defense, but then again that is not his forte.
The first safety off the bench this year will be 5-11, 202-pound sophomore Taylor Taliulu, Bucannon's backup and probable successor. In his first season out of high school, he started two games, earned a letter and made 13 tackles.
Wazzu will clearly have more uncertainty at cornerback, where starters have yet to be named. At field corner, 5-10, 178-pound senior Damante Horton is being pushed by 5-10, 171-pound redshirt freshman Rahmel Dockery. Horton naturally has a big advantage in experience and game reps, yet just lacks consistency in pass defense. The 2011 honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick made just 26 tackles and three pass breakups as a part-timer in 2012. The one-time wide receiver really came on in the spring, displaying good instincts and ball skills.
Over at boundary corner, seniors Anthony Carpenter and Nolan Washington are engaged in a very close competition. The 6-0, 196-pound Carpenter might have a slight lead since he brings more physicality and sure-tackling to the position. He started seven games in 2012, finishing with 48 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and his first career interception. The 5-11, 190-pound Washington earned three starts last fall to bring his career total to 22. However, despite being on the field plenty over the last three years, he has just one career interception.
Watch Out For .... Locker to be among the most flagged Cougars this season. The program likes the tenacity of No. 22, but it also needs him to play with a little discipline and restraint this fall. With officials more attuned than ever to dangerous hits, Locker will need to operate with a degree of controlled violence.
Strength: Big hitters. While there's no question that Bucannon and Locker set the tone out of the defensive backfield, the cornerbacks are going to lay the lumber as well. On a defense such as Washington State's, the defensive backs are always going to get plenty of opportunities to deliver the payload as run and pass defenders.
Weakness: Coverage skills. Yeah, the Cougars took a step in the right direction last season, yet still finished 93rd in the country in pass efficiency defense. The cornerbacks are soft in coverage, allowing far too many plays to get behind them. The 7.7 yards per attempt yielded in 2012 was among the worst in the FBS.
Outlook: Bucannon is a very nice defender who might even have a career on Sundays. However, after him Washington State is painfully thin on standouts in the secondary. The Cougars struggled last year, when the pass rush was oppressive. What happens if the pressure abates a bit in 2013? It'll be a familiar scene in Pullman this year, with Wazzu bowing to the better passing teams on the schedule.
Washington State isn't often among the best in the Pac-12 at any one particular position. Placekicker happens to be an exception. Senior Andrew Furney is back on the Palouse for a final season after elevating to the all-conference second team. He connected on 14-of-20 field goal tries, capped by an Apple Cup game-winner over Washington. Furney, whose 31-of-41 all-time on three-pointers, showcased his leg strength by uncorking a 60-yarder in Week 2 that tied for second longest in Pac-12 history.
Senior Michael Bowlin will once again handle punting duties. In his debut out of Saddleback (Calif.) Junior College, he averaged a respectable 41.9 yards. However, he also had three blocked, and was part of the reason why the Cougars were No. 11 in Pac-12 net punting.
Neither punt returners nor kick returners have been decided by the coaching staff. Senior Leon Brooks and sophomore Brett Bartolone were last year's primary punt returners, while sophomore Teondray Caldwell was the busiest Cougar on kickoffs.
Watch Out For… Bowlin to start getting his punts off a little quicker. Whether he was too deliberate or his blocking was inadequate, the well-travelled punter would be well-advised to take a tick off his release time.
Strength: Furney. At 5-10 and 215 pounds, he may look more like a fullback at times, but when it comes time to split the uprights, he's rarely off target. He's 31-of-41 all-time of field goals, and last year's 60-yard projectile was proof that Wazzu is in scoring range shortly after passing midfield.
Weakness: Punting issues. A program cannot get three punts blocked in a season and feel good about its performance on special teams. Bowlin was a nice stop-gap for a program that needed a punter, but his hang time was unimpressive, and only eight of his 58 punts were downed inside the 20.
Outlook: There's Furney on special teams, and pretty much everyone else. The Cougars love their strong-legged kicker, but the punter is average and the return game is still looking for someone to provide a spark. Bowlin will help the D if he's even a little more effective with his angles and his hang time.
2013 Washington State Preview |
Washington State Offense
2013 Washington State Defense |
Washington State Depth Chart