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NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

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Reasons for excitement and panic across the defense

Let’s take a big picture look at the Cougs when the other team has the ball.

This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2018 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.

Last year was a revelation for the WSU defense. The Cougs finished the season ranked 16th in the nation in total defense, vaulting up from 62nd in 2016 and 84th in 2015 (rankings are via They shut out two opponents and just about single-handedly won the game at Utah with seven takeaways.

Former defensive coordinator Alex Grinch definitely earned his pay, but he’s now at Ohio State and former Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys is in charge of the WSU defense.

Can the #SpeedD continue its strong play?

WSU returns plenty of experience in the secondary and at linebacker, but the biggest question is on the defensive line, where the team lost three defensive tackles.

As we did with the offense, we’ll give reasons for excitement and reasons to panic as we look at the 2018 Cougar defense, as well as special teams.

Defensive Line

NCAA Football: Boise State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Defensive Line

Name Year Size
Name Year Size
Nick Begg RS Senior 6'5", 265 lbs.
Kingston Fernandez RS Senior 6'2", 280 lbs.
Taylor Comfort RS Senior 6'0", 280 lbs.
Logan Tago Senior 6'3", 250 lbs.
Nnamdi Oguayo RS Junior 6'3", 252 lbs.
Preston Hendry RS Junior 6'5", 245 lbs.
Hunter Mattox RS Junior 6'3", 290 lbs.
Derek Moore Junior 6'1" 250 lbs.
Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei Junior 6'3", 265 lbs.
Will Rodgers III Sophomore 6'5", 250 lbs.
Lamonte McDougle* Sophomore 6'0", 305 lbs.
Dallas Hobbs RS Freshman 6'6", 280 lbs.
Jesus Echevarria RS Freshman 6'2", 300 lbs.
Christian Mejia RS Freshman 6'3", 245 lbs.
Michael Van Beek Freshman 6'2", 285 lbs.
Brennan Jackson Freshman 6'5", 235 lbs.
Ahmir Crowder Freshman 6'3", 255 lbs.

*Not eligible until 2019

Reasons for excitement

Not many!

Reasons to panic


Also, Nnamdi Oguayo has been absent in recent practices, as has junior Derek Moore.



WSU was the Pac-12’s fourth-best team against the run last year. Oguayo and Tago are veterans that will need to lead the way, but the line is undersized and both Oguayo and Tago need to stay healthy. Losing Lolohea is a brutal turn of events. Expect to hear the names of Hunter Mattox, Kingston Fernandez, Willie Rodgers III and Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei rotating in.


NCAA Football: Boise State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Linebackers

Name Year Size
Name Year Size
Peyton Pelluer "Graduate Student" 6'0", 230 lbs.
Levi Hansen RS Senior 6'0", 220 lbs.
Karson Block RS Junior 6'1", 235 lbs.
Jahad Woods RS Sophomore 6'0", 225 lbs.
Justus Rogers RS Sophomore 6'2", 230 lbs.
Dillon Sherman RS Sophomore 6'2", 225 lbs.
Erik Glueck RS Sophomore 6'1", 230 lbs.
Dominick Silvels Sophomore 6'3", 230 lbs.
Fa'avae Fa'avae RS Freshman 6'0", 225 lbs.
Cole Dubots RS Freshman 6'1", 210 lbs.
Isaiah Henderson-Brazie Freshman 6'1", 230 lbs.

Reasons for excitement

Getting Peyton Pelluer back for an extra year is massive, both for his on-field play and presumably his off-field leadership, especially when the team is dealing with the death of a teammate.

Pelluer missed most of last season but has been a steady presence on the field since 2015. Jahad Woods is back after a breakout season in which he made the season’s most iconic play and was second on the team in tackles. His fellow sophomores Justus Rogers and Dillon Sherman also return with experience.

Reasons to panic

This position group might be the one with the least amount of worry, given the experience it returns. The only real reason to panic would be the youth, but even that isn’t something we should lose too much sleep over.


This group exceeded expectations last year after losing three guys to injury—two of them season-ending. Those injuries created this year’s depth, in a weird way. With a smaller and inexperienced defensive line, we’ll see how Tracy Claeys deploys the linebackers.

Rush Linebackers

Washington State v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

2018 Rush Linebackers

Name Year Size
Name Year Size
Chima Onyeukwu RS Senior 6'2", 230 lbs.
Tristan Brock RS Junior 6'0", 240 lbs.
Mason Vinyard RS Sophomore 6'5", 230 lbs.
Willie Taylor III RS Freshman 6'4", 235 lbs.
Ron Stone Jr. Freshman 6'3", 210 lbs.
Hank Pladson Freshman 6'0", 205 lbs.

Reasons for excitement

Potential! Who isn’t excited about potential?!?!

Reasons to panic

None of them are Frankie Luvu, and Chima Onyeukwu has missed time during fall camp, leaving redshirt freshman Willie Taylor III in line to start.


Taylor seems like a fine athlete and could end up becoming a force, but his sample size is zero right now. There’s plenty of size and athleticism but little experience.


NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Nickelbacks

Name Year Size
Name Year Size
Hunter Dale Senior 5'10", 195 lbs.
Damion Lee RS Freshman 6'0", 195 lbs.
Kedron Williams Freshman 6'0", 185 lbs.
Patrick Nunn Freshman 6'4", 205 lbs.
Halid Djibril Freshman 6'0", 190 lbs.

Reasons for excitement

Hunter Dale is back for his senior season after starting all 13 games last year. He has this spot locked down after battling Kirkland Parker in 2017.

Reasons to panic

Depth. This year Dale is a one-man band and his only competition—if practice reports are to be believed—comes from true freshmen Patrick Nunn and Halid Djibril.


As long as Dale stays healthy, the Cougs should be fine. Getting Nunn and Djibril some playing time can’t hurt, and with the new redshirt rule in place, that could go a long way to building depth down the line.


NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Cornerbacks

Name Year Size
Name Year Size
Darrien Molton Senior 5'10", 190 lbs.
Sean Harper Jr. Senior 6'2", 190 lbs.
Skye Keller RS Junior 5'9", 160 lbs.
Marcus Strong Junior 5'9", 185 lbs.
George Hicks III Sophomore 6'0", 190 lbs.
Armani Marsh RS Freshman 5'8", 175 lbs.
Isaiah Love RS Freshman 6'0", 190 lbs.
William Overstreet Freshman 5'10", 180 lbs.
Myles Green-Richards Freshman 5'11", 185 lbs.

Reasons for excitement

There’s plenty of experience here, with senior Darrien Molton becoming a four-year starter. Marcus Strong started the last six games of 2017. Sean Harper Jr. is an experienced vet, and all three will figure into the rotation.

Reasons to panic

Beyond Molton, Harper Jr. and Strong, the experience level dips big time. Only George Hicks III has experience and that came as a true freshman last season.


The cornerbacks—and the secondary as a whole—could be another strength of the defense. WSU led the league in passing yards allowed last year with 170.9 per game and allowed the second-fewest passing TDs (11). This is another group that needs to stay healthy to continue last year’s success.


Washington State v Colorado Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

2018 Safeties

Name Year Size
Name Year Size
Deion Singleton RS Junior 6'2", 195 lbs.
Hayden Schmidt RS Junior 5'8", 180 lbs.
Jalen Thompson Junior 6'0", 190 lbs.
Skyler Thomas RS Sophomore 5'9", 185 lbs.
Makiah Gilmer RS Sophomore 6'0", 185 lbs.
Chad Davis Jr. Sophomore 6'2", 200 lbs.
Alex Flood Sophomore 5'10", 185 lbs.
D'Angelo McKenzie Freshman 6'0", 170 lbs.
Tyrese Ross Freshman 6'1", 180 lbs.
Cameron Minor Freshman 6'1", 170 lbs.

Reasons for excitement

Jalen Thompson is only a junior! He topped all players with four interceptions last year and looks like he could be WSU’s next great safety.

Reasons to panic

There is not a single senior at the safety position, which means there could be some growing pains.


Thompson will do what Thompson does, but other than him, guys like Skyler Thomas and Deion Singleton and maybe true freshman Tyrese Ross will have to step up.

Special Teams

Boise State v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

2018 Special Teams

Name Position Year Size
Name Position Year Size
Jack Crane Kicker RS Sophomore 6'2", 190 lbs.
Johan Zetterberg Kicker RS Freshman 6'2", 205 lbs.
Logan Prescott Kicker Freshman 5'11", 198 lbs.
Oliver Graybar Kicker/Punter RS Junior 5'10", 200 lbs.
Oscar Draguicevich Punter Junior 5'11", 180 lbs.
Blake Mazza Punter RS Freshman 5'9", 165 lbs.
Kyle Celli Long Snapper RS Senior 6'1", 230 lbs.
Tyler Williams Long Snapper Freshman 6'3", 195 lbs.

Reasons for excitement

Jack Crane was nearly perfect in the spring and we won’t see Kyle Sweet pull double duty and line up to punt.

Also, we never even noticed long snapper Kyle Celli last season and let’s hope we don’t notice him this year, either.

Reasons to worry

Crane and the rest of the kickers didn’t exactly inspire confidence at last Saturday’s scrimmage. None of the kickers on the roster have attempted a field goal, let alone a PAT, in a college football game.

Blake Mazza, Oliver Graybar and Oscar Draguicevich are also still battling it out for punting duties.


Erik Powell rebounded nicely last season and was the only one who kicked field goals. Crane kicked off nine times and will likely be the guy. We don’t have much to go off of at kicker, so your guess is as good as mine.

The same goes for punter. As long as the special teams unit doesn’t cost us any games, all is well.

Maybe Leach will revert back to his #NeverKick days of 2014-2016.

New Faces

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Minnesota vs Washington State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Much like the other side of the ball, the coaching turnover hit the defense this offseason as well. The defensive coaching staff turnover isn’t as simple as the turnover on offense. Compared to this year’s staff, Alex Grinch pulled triple duty, while his replacement will not. Also, the NCAA allowed an extra coach this season and Mike Leach used that new rule to fill an opening on defense.

Lastly, Eric Mele went from special teams coordinator to running backs coach.

Defensive Coordinator

Out: Alex Grinch
In: Tracy Claeys

Special Teams/Outside Linebackers

Moved/Out: Eric Mele/Roy Manning
In: Matt Brock


Out: Alex Grinch
In: Kendrick Shaver


Out: Alex Grinch
In: Darcel McBath


How are you feeling about the 2018 version of the WSU defense?

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  • 26%
    (127 votes)
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    (159 votes)
  • 40%
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479 votes total Vote Now
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