Continuing the grades from the Offense.
Defensive Line: B
Clearly improved from last year, injuries have still somewhat hampered our effectiveness here this season. Bernard Wolfgramm's been battling lingering issues, though Justin Clayton has shown he may become beastly in the coming years. Brandon Rankin has shown flashes of the superlatives we've been hearing about him since he signed his LOI. Travis Long has been destroying RB screens sent to his side, but has sometimes been caught giving up outside contain. Kevin Kooyman apparently woke up Saturday morning and decided he was going to give opposing offenses nightmares. Hope he sticks with that decision.
I really like the improvement that's already shown here. We'll see how they do against Pac10 competition, but I look for them to tighten up a few things and become a solid line with moments of pure "Holy Crap!" moments (the good kind of "Holy Crap!").
A lot of folks were thinking this might be our strongest unit before fall camp started. There seems to be good depth here. Halston Higgins, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Myron Beck and Mike Ledgerwood have played well and hustled their butts off. Beck and AHE in particular always seem to be around the ball. Darren Markle's been rather quiet. CJ Mizell has shown the flashes of something special... you can almost taste the nightmares opposing QBs and RBs are going to be having of him in coming years... but hasn't picked up on his responsibilities just yet.
I hope that the coaches continue to stunt and blitz with this group, as they've really come on in the last two games.
Defensive Backs: C-
Lots of potential in the defensive backfield, but right now, we're oh so inexperienced. Losing LeAndre Daniels is a blow to this group, even though Casey Locker and Deone Bucannon's play has me excited. Losing Chima Nwachukwu's experience at SMU probably hurt us as well.
I think they just need to see the field more. There's lots of athletic ability and speed flying around back there now with Locker, Bucannon, Nolan Washington, Anthony Carpenter and Daniel Simmons. Once they're comfortable with what they're seeing every Saturday, that'll turn into better play.
Overall Defense: C
Ultimately, you have to keep points off the board, you have to stop the opposing O, and ideally you create pressure that causes mistakes by the opposing team to get good opportunities for your offense to score. We did that the second half against MSU, and the first half against SMU, but haven't been able to do that for two halves on the same day.
Youth and inexperience again play a big role for our defense. If they mature quickly, and the game slows down for the safeties and corners, in particular, we could make a big jump here. If Mizell falls in line and buys into the expectations in practice, he could crack the starting line-up this year... and then start the rest of his career. In the mean time, I hope we continue to use pressure on D. I know it exposes the young secondary if the blitz doesn't get there quickly, but sitting back and waiting doesn't really "protect" the young guys either.
What a difference Brian Ungerer and those speedy freshmen have made. Kick return average below 20 yards, punt return average below 5. One thing that does worry me is that Nico Grasu has had to make 2 tackle so far, but nothing has gone to the house. Had he not stepped out of bounds,his fake FG vs. oSu would have likely gotten us a new set of downs. I definitely don't like the missed FG from 27 vs. SMU, but I do wish we would have gone for the other two FGs in he second half. Generally speaking, I like the aggressiveness of that kind of playcalling, as well. Atofau's forced fumble was fluky, but great to see. And then there's Reid Forrest... almost enough to make this an "A" by himself... 'nuff said.
I'd rather not see Nico have to make another tackle. I'd also like to see us try an onside kick or two BEFORE we're in dire, need to get the ball back to have any chance, territory. Finally, if we can't trust Nico to hit the FGs (practice reports suggested his accuracy had gone way up), then Andrew Furney needs to get some playing time.
Kick/Punt Return: C
Isiah Barton has done fairly well returning kicks. I'm hoping that at some point he can break one loose, as his return ability is one of the things I was excited about from his highlight reel. Leon Brooks has been serviceable returning punts as well. Chantz Staden has been solid in the past, and I'm sure will be again this year. Could do without a repeat of his fumble, for sure, though.
It could be blocking in front of our returners, but there's just nothing that sparks a big interest on this side of special teams. Hopefully that changes.
Overall Special Teams: B-
SO much better than last season. Solid play, fewer mistakes, better speed. I like those developments.
Bottom line is that Nico's got to be more consistent, but otherwise, we've done well. If we're not spectacular on special teams, but are solid... I'll take it.