2010 San Jose State Preview – Defense
San Jose State DE Mohamed Marah
San Jose State DE Mohamed Marah
Posted Jul 10, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - San Jose State Spartan Defense

San Jose State Spartans

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 San Jose State Preview | 2010 San Jose State Offense
- 2010 San Jose State Defense | 2010 San Jose State Depth Chart
- San Jose State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: Head coach Mike MacIntyre has a defensive background, and his coordinator, Kent Baer, knows the players. Now there has to be some more production and it has to start with a front seven that got steamrolled over by everyone's running game. There's enough size up front and a third linebacker added (after working in a 4-2-5 alignment a times last year) to try to do more against the ground attacks that averaged 259 yards per game last year against the Spartan D. Getting a healthy year from end Mohamed Marah is a must, and getting good production from some key JUCO transfers, like Ahkeem McKinney and JaRodd Watson, will help. The secondary should be one of the team's biggest strengths with all four starters returning, good depth, and a ton of athleticism. Safety Duke Ihenacho should be in the hunt for WAC Defensive Player of the Year.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Tanner Burns, 96
Sacks: Pablo Garcia, 4
Interceptions: Tanner Burns, Peyton Thompson, 2

Star of the defense: Senior S Duke Ihenacho
Player who has to step up and be a star: Redshirt freshman DT Anthony Larceval
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Travis Johnson
Best pro prospect: Ihenacho
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ihenacho, 2) S Tanner Burns, 3) DE Mohamed Marah
Strength of the defense: Veteran Secondary, Line Size
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Linebacker Size

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Senior Mohamed Marah was supposed to be the team's new pass rushing star after making 32 tackles with a sack in a reserve role two years ago, but he suffered a shoulder injury early on, after making four tackles with a sack in the opener, and was lost for the year. At 6-0 and 242 pounds he's built like a linebacker, and has seen time as a blocking fullback, and now he needs to be healthy by the start of the year to be the line's top playmaker.

The lone returning starter up front is junior Pablo Garcia, a decent interior pass rusher who tied for the team lead with four sacks and 23 tackles. At 6-2 and 290 pounds he's one of the team's biggest linemen, and now the starting defensive tackle has to be a bigger presence against the run. He's a do-it-all defender who'll be asked to shoot the gap to get into the backfield on a regular basis.

At 6-1 and 265 pounds, redshirt freshman Anthony Larceval is built like a bowling ball of a nose tackle with linebacker athleticism and good strength. Given offers by Arizona and Washington State, among others, he was always seen as a quick, smallish lineman rather than a bigger middle linebacker, and he has the potential to grow into a good interior pass rusher.

6-3, 235-pound Travis Johnson had a nice true freshman season as a key reserve making 18 tackles with two sacks, and he should thrive on the other side of Mohamed Marah with the full-time job. The sophomore was a dominant high school pass rusher with 38 sacks in his final two years, and he should be a regular in the backfield. He might not be fast, but he's extremely fast off the snap.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 290-pound Justin Willis was banged up last year with an ankle problem playing in just five games making nine tackles. The big senior suffered a neck injury in 2007 and missed all of 2008, and now he'll try to finish up his career as a key inside presence in the rotation with Anthony Larceval.

Coming in from the JUCO ranks will be a key part of the tackle rotation. 6-2, 275-pound JaRodd Watson is a tremendous interior pass rusher making seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss at Grossmont College. He's not huge, but he's extremely quick off the ball and is strong enough to serve as an anchor.

Sophomore Ahkeem McKinney was one of the key pickups in the recruiting class. The 6-6, 280-pound JUCO transfer from Pasadena College is a huge end, not a tackle, and while he'd be better as a 3-4 end, he'll see time in a variety of places. He's a pass rusher with an unlimited upside.

Watch Out For … the JUCO transfers. McKinney and Watson have the ability and the talent to be the team's two top linemen right away. They'll get their chances to shine.
Strength: Size. If the 280-pound McKinney really does stay at end, the Spartans have the potential to go with three players around 290 pounds in the front four to go along with some decent-sized end prospects.
Weakness: Production. The Spartans were fourth in the WAC in sacks, but they only came up with 20 and finished 103rd in the nation in tackles for loss. The run defense was the second-worst in America (hooray for Eastern Michigan!) allowing 259 yards per game.
Outlook: The line lost a big part of the puzzle when Marah went down with a shoulder injury, and now there could be a night-and-day improvement with him back and with the infusion of some good JUCO transfers. The line is big enough and athletic enough to be far better against the run.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: Senior Pompey Festejo was a great reserve two years ago making 49 tackles and thrived in the full-time role last year finishing third on the team with 83 tackles with two sacks and eight tackles for loss. While he's only 6-0 and 220 pounds, the former safety is extremely active with the range to make plays all over the field. He'll start in the middle, but he could easily be moved to the outside if needed.

Part linebacker, part safety, the 5-10, 205-pound Tiuke Tuipulotu will move to the linebacking corps after making 52 tackles with an interception and 3.5 tackles for loss. Extremely quick, he could grow into a dangerous all-around playmaker on the outside with more responsibility to get into the backfield. He's a sure-thing tackler who could be one of the team's most disruptive forces.

Getting the start on the outside will be sophomore Kyler O'Neal, a promising prospect with a great motor with tremendous speed and the potential to grow into a dangerous pass rusher and a playmaker into the backfield. Always going 100 miles per hour, he'll make some mistakes, but they'll be made by being overaggressive. At 6-0 and 213 pounds, he's built like a safety and will move around like one.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Ryno Gonzalez is a veteran backup who could see time in the middle. At 6-1 and 230 pounds, he's a bigger option than Pompey Festejo hits like a ton of bricks. The former running back saw time in eight games and made eight tackles, but he has had problems with foot injuries and hasn't been able to show off all he can do.

6-2, 255-pound Rashad Gayden is a big linebacker who'll get moved around where needed. A great prospect for the middle, he'll start out on the outside bringing more size as a potential pass rusher. He got to school early as a transfer from the College of the Sequoias and he's ready to be a factor.

Senior Brandon Storaasi is a smallish, 6-0, 213-pound veteran on the outside who'll be used on special teams more than on the defense. The speedy former walk-on came up with 11 tackles last season and will push for time with Kyler O'Neal in the rotation, but he'll mostly be a key part of the special teams again.

Watch Out For … more aggressiveness. The coaching staff wants this group to be fast, fast, fast in the way it plays. It's not like everyone was kept under wraps by Dick Tomey and his staff, but the call will go out to get into the backfield more.
Strength: Speed and quickness. With a group of safety-sized linebackers, the idea is to get everyone moving and hope to swarm around the ball. There's sideline-to-sideline range at all three spots, and getting to the ball won't be a problem.
Weakness: Run defense. Everyone can tackle and everyone is physical, but it hasn't mattered too much. The linebackers made way too many plays too far down the field, and while the line didn't help, there needs to be more production.
Outlook: After working more in a 4-2-5 alignment, the linebackers will go three wide this season with the hope of being more aggressive and more productive. There's good speed and quickness across the board, and there's nice upside with O'Neal and Gayden certain to play major roles. Now there needs to be some star power after losing Justin Cole from last year's corps.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: Senior Duke Ihenacho is a two-time All-WAC performer following up a 55 tackle, five interception season with 89 tackles and an interception with six broken up passes. The 6-1, 210-pound safety doesn't miss tackles and is terrific when the ball is in the air. Able to work as a hybrid of safety and linebacker, he hits like a ton of bricks and makes plays all over the field. With excellent quickness and great instincts, he's the team's key defensive playmaker who'll be in the center of every play.

Sophomore Tanner Burns will be a part of a rotation at the other safety spot, but he's too good to keep off the field. The 6-1, 185-pounder stepped in and was a rock in his first season with a team-leading 96 tackles with two interceptions and four forced fumbles. A willing tackler who'll stick his nose in on every play, he's as tough as nails with just enough speed and athleticism to get by. He has a problem staying blocked and he isn't all that slippery, but he makes every stop needed in the open field.

Sophomore Ronnie Yell turned into a starting corner in his first season, and now he has to do more against the pass. The 5-9, 175-pounder is extremely quick and cuts on a dime, but he has to prove he can handle the better receivers after breaking up just one pass and making 19 tackles. He tries to be physical for his size, but he's better against the quicker targets.

5-11, 180-pound Peyton Thompson moved into a starting role last year, but he'll be a part of a corner rotation this season. The junior was a solid tackler making 48 tackles and was decent against the pass making two picks and breaking up a team-leading nine passes, and now he has to use his tremendous speed to do even more as both a corner and, when needed, a nickel back.

Projected Top Reserves: Back for what seems like his 13th year with the program, 5-10, 194-pound senior Dominique Hunsucker will work at safety after making six tackles last year and working as a running back earlier in his career. He has moved around to various spots seeing time as a return man, a receiver, a defensive back and a runner, but now he'll stick in a rotation with Tanner Burns.

Former JUCO All-American Brandon Driver made 43 tackles with four interception at Santa Rose College, but he didn't get on the field last year. Now the 6-0, 180-pound junior will be a key part of the rotation at corner and will see time as a nickel and dime defender. The cousin of former Maryland basketball star, Juan Dixon, can also be used as a kick and punt returner.

5-9, 160-pound junior Alex Germany is a former high school wide receiver who got a little bit of time last year, but still needs work before he's a regular corner. He's not big, but he's a willing tackler with elite athleticism and quickness. He made ten tackles and forced a fumble in his little bit of playing time.

Watch Out For … Driver. There are several options at corner, but Driver has the upside and the skills to be the best of the lot. While he hasn't taken a starting job yet, he'll get a few big chances this year and he could be a stat-sheet filler if he's used in the right way.
Strength: Veterans. The Spartans get four starters back along with enough quality depth to provide a big push for jobs. This is an experienced group that should know what it's doing.
Weakness: Pass coverage against teams that really want to throw. To be fair, there wasn't a great pass rush to help out the cause, but the secondary didn't come up with many big plays when it had the chance. The stats would've been much worse if offenses didn't spend so much time running the ball.
Outlook: The secondary got ripped up by anyone who could throw the ball, but it finished 22nd in the nation in pass defense allowing 184 yards per game and 13 total touchdowns. The hope is for the veterans to do even more and make even more big plays, and the hope is for the secondary to be tested with the front seven doing its job against the run. There's plenty of speed and enough talent to be one of the league's better defensive backfields.
Unit Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Tyler Cope transferred from Colorado and had a decent first year hitting 7-of-11 field goals, He connected on all four of his kicks from 40 yards and in, but he missed four shots from beyond 40. He has a great leg and connected on a 46-yarder against New Mexico State, and he'll get more chances this year.

The punting game was a strength last season, but Philip Zavala is gone after averaging 52.2 yards per try. Cope will get the first look at the job. Running back Brandon Rutley has been a solid kickoff returner, but he only averaged 19.1 yards per try last year. Corner Ronnie Yell will get the first shot at the punt returning gig after getting five tries last year and failing to net a yard.

Watch Out For … Cope to get more chances. While he was too erratic from beyond 40 yards, he has the leg to get an opportunity to bail out a likely inconsistent offense.
Strength: Cope's leg. If he gets more work, he has the potential to be a major weapon with a cannon that can connect from 50 yards. However, he has to be more consistent.
Weakness: Coverage teams and return games. The Spartans were miserable on returns finishing dead last in the nation in punt returns (averaging 1.73 yards per pop) and 117th in kickoff returns (averaging 18.5 yards per try). They allowed 22.1 yards per kickoff return and 10.7 yards per punt return.
Outlook: The team isn't good enough to be so bad on the special teams. Cope is fine, but everything else needs a ton of help. There's way too much speed and athleticism across the board to be so bad on returns and coverage.
Unit Rating: 4.5

- 2010 San Jose State Preview | 2010 San Jose State Offense
- 2010 San Jose State Defense | 2010 San Jose State Depth Chart
- San Jose State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006