2008 Nevada Preview - Defense
Nevada LB Joshua Mauga
Nevada LB Joshua Mauga
Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Nevada Wolf Pack Defense

Nevada Wolf Pack

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Nevada Preview | 2008 Nevada Offense
2008 Nevada Defense | 2008 Nevada Depth Chart
2007 CFN Nevada Preview | 2006 CFN Nevada Preview 

What you need to know:
Get better. Now. That was the point of a recruiting class that was all about defense with around 15 players brought in to see time, at some point, on defense. JUCO transfers Michael Andrews (DT), Antoine Thompson (CB) and Maurice Harvey (S) should be major factors from day one, and now the rest of the returning D has to show up after a disappointing year. The 3-4 alignment is ditched for the 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Nigel Burton, and it should be decent if rising DE Kevin Basped can be the steady pass rusher the team sorely needs. The secondary has the potential to be night-and-day better if the newcomers play as expected and safeties Uche Anyanwu and Jonathan Amaya have good years.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Joshua Mauga, 82
Sacks: Kevin Basped, 4
Interceptions: Jonathan Amaya, Mundrae Clifton & Mike Sample, 1

Star of the defense: Senior LB Joshua Mauga
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Dontay Moch
Unsung star on the rise: Junior FS Jonathan Amaya
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Antoine Thompson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mauga, 2) DE Kevin Basped, 3) FS Jonathan Amaya
Strength of the defense: New defensive backs, safeties
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, outside linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
More is needed from the front three, and it begins with senior Mundrae Clifton, an end by name, but he's mostly a tackle at 6-2 and 290 pounds. He had a monster game in the San Jose State loss making ten tackles, but he only made 23 stops in the other 12 games and only came up with half a sack. The former JUCO transfer has all the measurables, but he's not the pass rusher the defense needs.

6-6, 240-pound Kevin Basped returns to the other end spot after a strong debut. The sophomore ended up entrenched as the starter over the second half of the season finishing with 50 tackles, four sacks, and 11.5 tackles for loss as the team's most dangerous backfield threat. He's a disruptive force who's one of the team's few true ends; he's not a tackle playing end.

Ready to step in and make an impact on the nose in place of Matt Hines is Michael Andrews, a 6-3, 275 found JUCO transfer with three years remaining. A leader and potentially a top force in the backfield and against the run, he was recruiting by several mid-level schools, like San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico State, along with Cincinnati, but the Wolf Pack snagged him and now are hoping to have a three-year anchor.

Can Dontay Moch replace one of the WAC's best players? Ezra Butler was a big-time disruptive force who was made for the Pack's former Bandit position, and now it'll be a fight to see who can take over. Moch, a 220-pound sophomore, was a decent understudy making 13 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Mostly a special teamer so far, he'll have to use his tremendous speed to fill the void. While he's much lighter than Butler, the one-time Arizona state 200-meter champion is much faster.

Projected Top Reserves: While the hope if for Andrews to be the main man somewhere on the line, 6-2, 285-pound sophomore Nate Agaiava will look to fit in somewhere after making nine tackles and a tackle for loss in a reserve role. The nose tackle isn't a pass rusher, but he has the strength to become a big run plugger.

Working behind Clifton at one end will once against be 6-5, 270-pound junior Chris Slack, a big prospect who needs to find a niche as a pass rusher to get more playing time. He only saw seven games of action and made three tackles.

Watch Out For ... Basped. The Wolf Pack needs more of a pass rush, and the sophomore should provide it. He might have just scratched the surface of how good he can become with a strong second half of his first season.
Strength: Size. It's a function of the system. Instead of two big tackles in the middle and two smaller, more athletic ends on the outside, the Nevada front three is mostly made up of mid-sized tackles. While there are exceptions, like Basped, this is a big front that, theoretically, should be strong against the run. However ...
Weakness: This group hasn't been good against the run, and it hasn't been for a while. To be fairly the Pack tightened up over the second half of the season, but that was mostly because it was playing a who's who of WAC teams that couldn't run. New Mexico proved that with 194 yards in the bowl game.
Outlook: While there are holes to fill on defense and major concerns, the front three could be the biggest issue. Kevin Basped is a good one, but more is needed out of Mundrae Clifton on the other side. If JUCO transfer Michael Andrews doesn't become an instant player, there could be more problems getting into the backfield. If this year's front three is good, it'll trickle down to the rest of the D.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters
Senior Joshua Mauga was turning into a special playmaker with 71 tackles in the first eight games on the weakside, but a knee injury ended his regular season early. He was able to come back for the bowl game and made 11 tackles in the loss, and now the captain returns to his role as the leader of the defense. At 6-2 and 245 pounds, he's big enough to be a major factor on the line, and fast enough to get in on just about every play with the room he has to roam.

Looking to take over on the strongside for Nick Fuhr will be Adam Liranzo, a former safety who hasn't been able to stay healthy so far. While he's only 6-4 and 220 pounds, he's a promising all-around playmaker who'll take over for Nick Fuhr after a great spring.

The one new starter in the mix last year was junior Kevin Porter, who took over the job in the middle and made 54 tackles. The 240-pounder has had a strange career starting off as a good backup, missing all of 2005 with an injury, and then finally getting back in the mix as a sophomore in 2006. While he needs to do more against the run, he's a smart player who has enough experience to be better.

Projected Top Reserves: After Mauga injured his knee, 250-pound JUCO transfer Jerome Johnson took over at the Wolf and finished with 68 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. A huge hitter, he's also a strong pass defender considering his size; he's quicker than he appears. He'll likely find starting time somewhere in a big hurry; he has too much size and upside to keep off the field.

Looking for time weakside linebacker is redshirt freshman Brandon Marshall, who's more of a safety than a true linebacker. The 215-pounder will need to prove he can hold his own against the run, while using his quickness to be a regular in the backfield. 

With the experienced depth lacking in the linebacking corps, 6-3, 225-pound Ryan Coulson needs to be a big part of the rotation early on. A tackling machine, he made a mere six stops in a limited role and now has to be a factor in the middle.

Is Brett Roy ready? After grayshirting last year, getting to campus early but not being a part of the team, he needs to be a part of the corps and a big part of the depth with 240-pound size and good upside.

Watch Out For ... Ezra Butler to not be missed as much as expected. You don't get better by losing a Defensive Player of the Year, but the Wolf Pack have some interesting options, like Dontay Moch and Ryan Coulson, who appear ready to pick up the slack.
Strength: Variety. There's a good mix of speed, size, experience and potential among the linebackers allowing the coaching staff to mix and match as needed. Considering there are four spots to fill, the more versatility, the better, and this group has it.
Weakness: Established depth. While the defense was the main focus of the recruiting class, there wasn't any instant help coming in from the JUCO ranks. Grayshirts Albert Rosette and Brett Roy could play an early role, but it's asking a lot to assume they'll be ready from day one.
Outlook: Considering all the talent returning last year, this might have been the WAC's most disappointing unit. Now the hope is to improve with Mauga back healthy from his knee injury and needing players like Porter in the middle and Marshall on the outside to be more disruptive. There's not much in the way of depth, so it might be a while before the right rotation is set.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The one hole to fill last year is now the one area the secondary can count on early on. Senior Uche Anyanwu had to take over at strong safety for star Joe Garcia, and he came up with a nice year making 62 tackles while using his 6-4, 220-pound body o provide a huge pop. While there's no questioning his physical ability, he has to start doing more against the pass.

The hope at corner is for an instant improvement thanks to two newcomers, Thaddeus Brown and Antoine Thompson. The 5-11 Brown might not be ready for primetime from the start, but the true freshman could be the WAC's most talented corner after just a little bit of work. A lightning fast all-around athlete, he's a running back/defensive back who needs to fill an immediate hole by using his athleticism to make up for early mistakes.

Thompson is all set to come in and star right away. The former JUCO star has the 6-1, 195-pound size and next-level potential. ACC schools like Virginia Tech, Maryland and Virginia wanted him, but he's coming to Reno to start right away.

Also wanted by several big-name schools was Maurice Harvey, Thompson's JUCO teammate who made 20 picks in his two years at Reedley College, and he should be a major playmaker at free safety in place of second-leading tackler, Justin Jackson. Along with his defensive skills, he's also a phenomenal special teamer with 12 blocked kicks at the lower level.

Projected Top Reserves: If Thaddeus Brown isn't quite ready, it'll likely be up to sophomore Kenny Viser to fill in and start at one corner spot. While he'll likely be keeping the seat warm, he has the 6-1, 195-pound size and the toughness to play anywhere in the secondary. At worst, he'll be a key reserve at safety as well as corner.

6-2, 190-pound junior Jonathan Amaya is too good to keep off the field for long after making 34 tackles in eight games before going down with a knee injury. One of the team's most versatile players, he can play any spot in the secondary, but is best suited for free safety.

Watch Out For ... The new guys. The Nevada coaching staff was all but giggling at the talent coming, especially JUCO transfers Antoine Thompson and Maurice Harvey, who could've been starters this year at several BCS schools.
Strength: Potential. If all the talent comes through as hoped for, this might not be just the WAC's best secondary, it could be a major strength against anyone the Pack goes against. A case could be made that on raw talent, this is the best group of defensive backs ever put together by head coach Chris Ault.
Weakness: Proven production. Uche Anyanwu is a player and Jonathan Amaya, when healthy, is a star, but the secondary is relying on newcomers to make the pass defense better. While the recruits should be fantastic from the start, they're still new and will be tested early.
Outlook: The call went out to provide an instant upgrade for the secondary, and newcomers are expected to turn a disappointing secondary to something special. While there wasn't much of a pass rush to help the secondary out, the pass defense was still a problem allowing 241 yards per game. It's asking a lot, but JUCO transfers Antoine Thompson and Thaddeus Brown might be instant All-WAC producers. Anyanwu could be an all-star if he does more against the pass, and Amaya is a special player when healthy.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Brett Jaekle went from being a steady kicker, hitting 20 of 26 field goals over his first two years, and then he started bombing away last season nailing five of eight kicks from beyond 40 yards. He had a few misses, including a costly 37-yarder in the three-point loss to San Jose State, but he's usually clutch.

While Jaekle is on the verge of all-star honors, the punting game is a different story. The net results were awful over the last two seasons, and Zachary Whited is gone making it an open casting call for the job. Jaekle might get a chance along with redshirt freshman Nick Rhodes, a placekicker by trade.

A new punt returner has to be found to replace Alex Rosenblum, who struggled with an 8.7-yard average, but the kickoff returner is set with junior Dwayne Sanders back after averaging 22.6 yards per try.

Watch Out For ... More attention to be paid to the return game. The punt returning was awful and the kickoff returns were mediocre, even though Dwayne Sanders had a great year. Outside of PK Brett Jaekle, the special teams were lousy considering the Pack was ninth in the nation in punt returns and 14th in kickoff returns in 2006.
Strength: Jaekle. The one knock on the veteran was his range, and then he started nailing some big shots from beyond 40 yards. He should be the difference in at least two games.
Weakness: The punting game. It only averaged 32 yards per kick last season, and now a new punter needs to be found.
Outlook: After a lousy year, the special teams should get more work. Jaekle is a weapon, but a steady punter has to emerge and more is needed from the return game.
Rating: 6