2009 Nevada Preview - Defense
Nevada DE Dontay Moch
Nevada DE Dontay Moch
Posted Jul 14, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Nevada Wolf Pack Defense

Nevada Wolf Pack

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Nevada Preview | 2009 Nevada Offense
2009 Nevada Defense | 2009 Nevada Depth Chart
2008 Nevada Preview | 2007 Nevada Preview | 2006 Nevada Preview 

What you need to know: It was a strange year for a Nevada defense that’s working all off-season to vastly improve. The pass rush was among the best in the nation. Ends Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch are fantastic, and the linebackers are aggressive and great at getting into the backfield. The plays behind the line helped the overall stats against the run, but the Pack could be powered on. And then there’s the pass defense. Nevada was ripped apart by just about everyone, finishing dead-last in the nation in pass defense. Two good starters, CB Antoine Thompson and SS Jonathan Amaya are back, and it’ll be an open casting call for the other two spots.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jonathan Amaya, 68
Sacks: Dontay Moch, 11.5
Interceptions: Jonathan Amaya, 4

Star of the defense: Junior DE Kevin Basped
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Brandon Marshall
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB James-Michael Johnson
Best pro prospect: Basped
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Basped, 2) DE Dontay Moch, 3) SS Jonathan Amaya
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, tackling
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, pass defense, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The only starter lost up front is Mundrae Clifton, a solid tackle who helped clog up the middle. Getting the first shot at taking over the job is senior Chris Slack, a 6-5, 270-pound end who has been used as a slightly undersized tackle. He was tough against the run and wasn’t bad at getting into the backfield in his limited time, making ten tackles and two tackles for loss.

The star up front is 6-6, 240-pound pass rushing terror Kevin Basped. The All-WAC senior took over the job two years ago, and now he’s stronger and expected to blow up into a national star. Along with a solid 50 tackles, he came up with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss showing a blast off the ball and great closing quickness when he got a bead in the backfield. He’s a hard worker who’ll only get better.

Benefitting on the other side of Basped is Dontay Moch, a 6-1, 245-pound junior who earned all-star recognition after making 50 tackles with a team-leading 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. While he’s not just a backfield terror, he needs to get better against the run. He’s a willing tackler, and now he has to be more consistent. The key to his game is speed. He was able to beef up last year without losing a step.

Returning on the inside is Nate Agaiava, a 6-2, 285-pound senior who was a brick wall against the run. While he’s not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, he’s an anchor who lets everyone else work around him. The stats are never going to be impressive, he only came up with ten tackles, but he’s a strong plugger who can play on the nose or at either tackle spot.
Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Basped at one end spot will be junior Ryan Coulson after a ten tackle season. He’s a 6-3, 255-pound pass rusher who was able to come up with a sack against Idaho, but wasn’t used too often in the rotation. With his added experience, he’s expected to do even more.

In the rotation with Colson, and possible working behind Moch, will be sophomore end Brett Roy, a 6-4, 260-pound active defender who made 11 tackles and a tackle for loss. He’s an aggressive athlete who should grow more and more into an all-around end who’ll deserve more time.

6-3, 275-pound Michael Andrews was a top JUCO transfer who was expected to step in and play right away, but the sophomore didn’t get on the field in his first season.  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.

Also pushing for tackle time will be Zack Madonick, a 6-1, 285-pound sophomore who made three tackles in a reserve role. He’s a plugger who can play either tackle spot and could be put at the nose when needed.

Watch Out For ... Nate Agaiava. He’s a strong, tough inside presence who’ll see plenty of one-on-one blocking with all the attention paid to the ends. The Wolf Pack had one of the nation’s best defensive fronts against the run, and Agaiava will keep up the production.
The ends. Basped and Moch can’t be stopped. These two are pin-the-ears-back pass rushers who camp out in opposing backfields. While they need to do a bit more against the run, especially Moch, they’re excellent outside playmakers who’ll keep opposing offensive coordinators up at nights. Adding even more to the mix is top recruit, Josh Banks, who’d be a starter for most WAC teams.
Weakness: Veteran backups inside. This group makes plays by being active, but there hasn’t been enough of a rotation. That should change a bit this year with more tackle options who have been around the system long enough to do more. However, there aren’t a lot of players with on-field experience.
Outlook: The defensive front was fantastic throughout last year finishing eighth in the nation in tackles for loss, tenth in sacks, and sixth against the run. This is a big group that’s ultra-active on the outside and tough enough on the inside to get by. There needs to be a bit more from the backups this year and Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch have to stay healthy.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
Senior Mike Bethea had a nice season on the weakside, or the Wolf position, making 29 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss, and now he’ll move to the middle to take over for Joshua Mauga. The 6-3, 245-pound Bethea has nice size and good instincts for the inside, and now he’ll have to stay healthy after missing time with a foot problem.

With Bethea’s move, sophomore Brandon Marshall will slide into the weakside job after seeing time in every game as a redshirt freshman. The 6-1, 230-pounder made 33 tackles and was good at getting into the backfield with 8.5 tackles for loss. He’s decent against the pass and can move just well enough to hang with most running backs in pass patterns. Another one of Nevada’s great hybrid playmakers who’s more like a safety but gets into the backfield like a defensive end.

Returning to the strongside will be James-Michael Johnson after making 49 stops. A tremendous pass rusher with impeccable timing into the backfield, he came up with 12.5 tackles for loss. He got better and better as his redshirt freshman year went on, and now he’s expected to become one of the leaders of the defensive front. While the sophomore is a bit undersized at 6-2 and 220 pounds, he’s tough.

Projected Top Reserves: The key experiment on the defense is the move of Kevin Grimes from safety to linebacker. The 6-0, 190-pound junior was a good special teamer and a nice tackler with 45 stops in nickel situations and as a backup strong safety, but he struggled in pass coverage. He’s a tough, physical hitter who’ll rotate in at one of the outside jobs.

Pushing for time on the weakside will be junior Adam Liranzo after a solid 23 tackle season on the strongside. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, he’s a rangy playmaker who held up well against the run and has the athleticism to be used more in space and against the pass. He can also get into the backfield with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

6-1, 235-pound sophomore Joe Easter is versatile enough to play on the strongside or work in the middle. He got on the field right away as a true freshman and played like a star of the future both at linebacker and on special teams. He only made nine tackles, but he showed promise with good quickness for his size.

Junior Jared Silva-Purcell is a 5-11, 220-pound try-hard player who came up with 14 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown. An undersized middle linebacker, he can start if absolutely needed and could move to the strongside from time to time. 

Watch Out For ... James-Michael Johnson to be even more of a statistical star. He was just starting to figure everything out at the end of last year, and now that he’ll be allowed to do even more from his weakside spot, he should be even more unstoppable into the backfield.
Strength: Pass rushing ability. With a good variety of options and athletes, there’s a good rotation to keep everyone fresh. Nevada doesn’t run a wild and crazy jailbreak defense, but its linebackers are great at being aggressive.
Weakness: Pass defense. This group is great against the run and fantastic at making plays behind the line, but they did next to nothing to help the struggling secondary on short to midrange passes.
Outlook: The Nevada linebacking corps will be all about having strength in numbers. There’s a good group of young athletes with experience that should only get better as the season goes on. While there isn’t an NFL-caliber thumper like Josh Mauga to work around, there’s enough active, aggressive talent to be solid.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: There are two sure things in the 2009 Nevada secondary, and it’ll be a battle for the other jobs. Senior strong safety Jonathan Amaya is back after tying for the team lead with 68 tackles to go along with a team-leading four interceptions. At 6-2 and 190 pounds, he has good size and nice tackling ability, but he struggled in pass coverage throughout the year and turned out to be far better in run support. Now that he’s more than a year removed from a knee injury, he should be even better. One of the team's most versatile players, he can play any spot in the secondary, but is best suited for free safety and can be used as a kick and punt returner.

The other secured spot is at one of the corners with senior Antoine Thompson returning after leading the team with eight broken up passes. The former JUCO star has 6-1, 195-pound size and a ton of talent. ACC schools like Virginia Tech, Maryland and Virginia all made a push for him, and now he has to show off his potential next-level skills by being more of a lockdown corner.

Trying to hold on to the corner spot he took over late last season is sophomore Isaiah Frey, a 6-0, 190-pound tackler who played in every game and made 23 tackles with three broken up passes. He was shaky in pass coverage and still needs work, but he has enough experience to get a long look.

Gone is Uche Anyanwu at free safety, who tied for the team lead in tackles. First up in the rotation will be Mo Harvey, a 6-3, 210-pound senior who made 22 tackles and came up with three interceptions. He made 20 picks in his two years at Reedley College and now has to be more of a ball hawker for a secondary that needs to make more big plays.
Projected Top Reserves: How quickly can Cory Smith be ready? The star JUCO recruit has 6-2, 180-pound size and impressive quickness. He was almost an Oregon State Beaver except for a problem with his academics and in his transcript, but it was cleared up in time for him to become a member of the Wolf Pack secondary. He’s an immediate playmaker for a secondary that could use a stronger option than Isaiah Frey at one of the corner spots.

The other key incoming recruit is Duke Williams, a fast, athletic safety who was heavily courted by a few Pac 10 schools along with BYU. At 6-1, 175 pounds, he’s a wiry defensive back with great range and tremendous upside.

Junior Doyle Miller was a spot starter at corner last season making seven tackles with two broken up passes. The 5-11, 185-pounder will push for the No. 2 corner job on the other side of Antoine Thompson, but he’ll most likely be a backup and a nickelback.

Watch Out For ... The new guys … but that’s what the Pack were hoping for last season. The secondary got a slew of fresh faces last year and it didn’t matter. This year, players like Khalid Wooten, Marlon Johnson, Ahmad Wood, and Mose Denton are just a few of the prospects auditioning for jobs.
Strength: Size. If nothing else, this group can tackle. It’s a good-sized group of defensive backs with nice, tall corner prospects. There might not be a 225-pound bricklayer at safety, but there isn’t anyone who’ll be picked on by bigger receivers.
Weakness: Production. The Pack finished dead last in the nation in pass defense, getting picked apart by everyone. With only two players certain to start, CB Antoine Thompson and SS Jonathon Amaya, it’ll be an open casting call for anyone who can remotely cover a receiver.
Outlook: The call went out to provide an instant upgrade for the secondary last year. The result? A nation’s-worst 312 yards allowed per game and 31 touchdown passes with two or more allowed in the last 11 games. Oddly enough, one of the season’s best performances was against Texas Tech early on, but the secondary did nothing the rest of the way. The defensive backs can tackle, but they have to prove they can cover. Fortunately, there aren’t many passing teams early on the schedule.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Brett Jaekle was one of the nation’s better kickers over the last few seasons and hit 50-of-64 career field goals. He won’t be easily replaced, but sophomore Nick Rhodes was a good recruit who can punt as well as kick.

Jaekle was also a punter, averaging 40.5 yards per kick taking over for Brad Langley. The junior averaged 44 yards per kick with 10 put inside the 20. He has a nice leg, and while the overall net average wasn’t great, Langley was fine until he suffered an Achilles heel injury.

Corner Antoine Thompson struggled to do much as a punt returner, averaging a paltry 4.9 yards per return, while receiver Chris Wellington will get the first look on kickoff returns taking over for Brian Fludd, who averaged 22.1 yards per try.

Watch Out For ... the special teams will be an issue throughout the off-season. Brett Jaekle was a great all-around kicker last year and he’ll be sorely missed, and now the special teams have to find something they do well.
Strength: Brad Langley was a solid punter, but he has to come back healthy. That’s not a given. Considering how miserable it was in 2007, the punting game could be the main positive focus even if it takes him a while to get back in the mix.
Weakness: Kick coverage. Out of all the issues, including a pathetic kickoff return game, the Wolf Pack has the biggest issue with its kickoff coverage. Nevada allowed a whopping 26.1 yards per return last year.
Outlook: Brett Jaekle was fantastic, and now he’s gone meaning the Nevada special teams have nothing to count on. Everything needs work from the kicking game to the return game to the coverage teams. This was a disaster at times throughout 2008, and there’s nothing to suggest things will be immediately better in 2009.
Rating: 4


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2009 Nevada Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 14, 2009
2009 Nevada Preview - Offense
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2009 CFN Nevada Preview
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