What you need to know ...
It's not going to be the type of defense that can stop
anyone cold, but there are just enough veteran playmakers to
come up with a few plays needed to be effective in the shootouts
the team is certain to be in. End Mkristo Bruce should be one of
the Pac 10's most disruptive forces, while outside linebackers
Steve Dildine and Scott Davis should be in line for
all-conference honors. The secondary that struggled too much
last year has to find new corners, but the safeties should be
Tackles: Eric Frampton, 87
Sacks: Mkristo Bruce, 10
Interceptions: Husain Abdullah, 2
Star of the defense: Senior DE Mkristo Bruce
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CBs
Don Turner and Tyron Brackenridge
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Aaron Johnson
Best pro prospect: Bruce
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bruce, 2) SS Eric
Frampton, 3) LB Steve Dildine
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
The line wasn't all that bad last season
considering the overall problems of the defense, and it should be
excellent again this year led by sackmaster Mkristo Bruce on the end.
The tackles should be a strength with the return of Ropati Pitoitua from
a leg injury and should do enough on the inside to allow Bruce to shine.
There's plenty of experienced depth to form a nice rotation as the year
The key to the unit: Keep on sacking. Wazzu had the
Pac 10's top pass rushing defense last year, but the run D needs to be
better. Both things start up front.
Defensive Line Rating: 7
- DE Mkristo Bruce, Sr. - 67 tackles, 10 sacks, 15 TFL, 3
broken up passes, 4 quarterback hurries, 3 forced fumbles
One of the nation's top all-around ends, the 6-6, 250-pound senior can
do it all. He's an unstoppable pass rusher when he sees one-on-one
blocking, but he's also solid against the run finishing fourth on the
team in tackles. There are few better at getting around the corner and
closing on the quarterback.
- DT Aaron Johnson, Jr. - 19 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Johnson was a decent player on the inside last year, but he didn't use
his size enough to stuff the run. He's 6-6 and 310 pounds with a little
bit of quickness. Now he has to be an anchor at left tackle
- DT Ropati Pitoitua, Jr. - 13 tackles, 1 sack
Back after hading problems with a leg injury last season. the 6-8,
299-pound junior should add instant help to the front four. He hit
the weights hard and should be more of an all-around force, but his real
talent is getting into the backfield; he'll be one of the Pac 10's best
interior pass rushers.
- DE Matt Mullennix, Jr. - 12 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 TFL
After seeing a little bit of reserve time last year and showing flashes
of becoming a top pass rusher, the 6-5, 256-pound junior has to flourish
on the other side of Mkristo Bruce. A torn up knee knocked him out in
2004 and hindered him a bit last year, but he's 100% now.
- DT A'I Ahmu, Soph. - 26 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL
Ahmu stepped in when Ropati Pitoitua got hurt and turned into a decent
all-around defender. He still needs work against the run, but he's a
good tackler and should be fantastic in a reserve role on the right side
if he doesn't win the starting gig.
- DE Matt Graise, Soph. - 5 tackles
Purely a pass rushing specialist, Graise is only 6-3 and 216 pounds but
has good speed. He'll mostly see time on special teams, but he should
also be a disruptive force behind Mkristo Bruce on the weakside.
loses heart-and-soul leader Will Derting, but it gets back a whole
boatload of experience and talent. Unheralded because of all the
attention pair to Derting, Scott Davis and Steve Dildine became strong
players on the outside and now should be in the mix for All-Pac 10
honors. Greg Trent had a nice first season in the middle when Derting
was hurt, and now he should be a threat to hit the 100-tackle mark.
The key to the unit: More big plays. The linebacking
corps didn't do nearly enough to force turnovers. Last year was about
getting experience. This year will be about blowing things up.
Linebacker Rating: 7.5
- Scott Davis, Sr. - 66 tackles, 5 TFL, 6 broken up
One of the team's top tacklers over the last two years, Davis is a
fantastic pass defender as well as a good tackler on the strongside.
While he's not all that big at 5-10 and 228 pounds, he's quick and has
great instincts. He should grow into an all-star with more Pac 10
- Greg Trent, Soph. - 69 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 broken up
Trent was a terrific backup last season and now will take over Will
Derting's old spot. While he might not be Derting, he'll be one of the
team's most productive players after finishing second on the team last
season. With five games of starting experience, he knows what he's doing
and should grow into a disruptive force.
- Steve Dildine, Sr. - 68 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up
With the strength to play strongside linebacker and the wheels to shine
on the weakside, the 6-1, 229-pound senior got plenty of opportunities
to make plays with teams running away from the other linebackers. An
All-Pac 10 caliber talent, Dildine's quickness and experience should
make him a star.
- Brian Hall, Sr. - 11 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Mostly a special teamer so far, the 242-pound senior is by far the
team's biggest linebacker. He has a little bit of experience and needs
to be a factor against the run on the outside playing behind Scott
- Jason Stripling, Soph. - 7 tackles
While Stripling is undersized at 5-11 and 218 pounds, he has the speed
and range to be an interesting prospect in the middle. He saw time as a
freshman on special teams and now needs to be a steady part of the
- Cory Evans, Soph. - 19 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
A productive high school running back, Evans turned in a nice first
season showing good quickness on the weakside. While he needs more
experience to be the playmaker Steve Dildine is, he could be a starter
without much of a problem.
All the Pac 10 secondaries have issues in the
pass happy conference, but the Cougars still struggled even by the low
standards. Corner is the main early concern needing to replace both
starters, but the safeties will be will be excellent with the return of
Husain Abullah and Eric Frampton. This group can tackle, but they can't
give up so many big plays.
The key to the unit: Be far better on key plays. The
secondary couldn't stop anyone on third downs and got beaten deep too
Secondary Rating: 6
- CB Tyron Brackenridge, Sr.
The top JUCO recruit hasn't done anything yet; now he'll finally get on
the field and get a shot to shine. He has fantastic speed and can be
used as a kick returner, but he has to stay healthy. Expect him to be
one of the team's interception leaders.
- FS Husain Abdullah, Jr. - 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 broken
Abdullah has all-star potential with big hitting ability and decent
range. He's a decent hitter who has to be more consistent when the ball
is in the air, but after two years of experience, he should be able to
sniff out more plays.
- SS Eric Frampton, Sr. - 87 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 5.5
TFL, 8 broken up passes
Frampton put it all together last season using his athleticism and size
to become one of the team's best defenders. He lead the team in tackles
and was the team's best pass defender. With the timing and speed to make
plays in the backfield, he'll be sent on blitzed early and often.
- CB Don Turner, Sr. - 25 tackles, 1 interception
While he doesn't have any starting experience, he has seen more than
enough time to step in and be the team's number one cover-corner. He's a
good-hitting 6-0 and 183 pounds with nice wheels, but he has to show he
can hang with the team's speedier receivers.
- CB Courtney Williams, Soph. - 12 tackles
Projected to be a safety when he came to the team, the 6-1, 193-pound
sophomore will now combine with Ryan Kensok for backup time on the left
side. He's one of the team's fastest players, but he has to show that he
can cover someone.
- FS DeWayne Patterson, Sr. - 24 tackles, 1 sack
One of the team's star JUCO transfers last season, Patterson made a
little bit of an impact with two starts and a few big plays. While he
has an excellent combination of size and speed, he's not going to take
too much time away from Husain Abdullah.
- SS Michael Willis, Soph. - 10 tackles
A huge hitter, the 6-3, 205-pound Willis has the potential to become an
intimidating force once he starts seeing more time. He'll make plays on
special teams and could see a little bit of time in nickel and dime
The kicking game is a question mark needing Darryl Blunt
to replace star punter Kyle Basler and placekicker Loren Langley needs
to be like he was at the beginning of 2005, not the end. Michael Bumpus
should be one of the Pac 10's top punt returners, but the kickoff return
game needs more pop after only averaging 19.1 yards per try.
The key to the unit: Replacing Basler is one of the
biggest keys to the team. If Darryl Blunt can be solid, the special
teams will be more than fine.
Special Teams Rating: 7
- PK Loren Langley, Jr. - 14-22 FGs, 38-41 extra points
Langley started off the season hot and then couldn't hit anything late
in the year. Granted, most of the missed were from long range, but
consistency is suddenly a question. He's solid from inside 40, and shaky
- P Darryl Blunt, Soph.
Blunt has the unenviable task of trying to replace Kyle Basler, who
helped lead the Cougars to the Pac 10 lead in net punting. While he
won't be Basler, he has a decent leg.