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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Washington State at Arizona State

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Breaking down WSU’s 2022 defensive personnel

Experience means this unit should be poised for another step forward.

Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is the next installment in our series of stories previewing the 2022 Washington State Cougars football season. Other installments can be found here.


Unlike the WSU offense, the Cougar defense should maintain its same philosophy, despite the head coaching change. Jake Dickert was the team’s defensive coordinator last season before taking over as interim head coach. As you know, Dickert is now the full-time head man and Brian Ward is the defensive coordinator. But with Dickert leading the way, it’s a much smoother transition for the defense, if there’s even a transition at all.

Bold prediction: The defense will be the better side of the ball this season … if it can stay on the sidelines long enough. You’ve read my preview of the offense, which has some worrisome spots. The defense has plenty of talent returning from a squad that allowed opponents to convert on 38.15% of third downs, which was good enough for fifth in the conference but a little less than 2% away from tops in the league.

Here’s how WSU fared on defense last season — from a high level — courtesy of cfbstats.com:

  • Scoring Defense: 24.2 points/game, fifth in the Pac-12
  • Rushing Defense: 161 yards/game, seventh in the Pac-12
  • Passing Defense: 215 yards/game, fifth in the Pac-12
  • Total Defense: 377.8 yards/game, sixth in the Pac-12
  • Sacks: 21 (1.62 per game), seventh in the Pac-12
  • Takeaways: 29, first in the Pac-12
  • Tackles For Loss: 67, sixth in the Pac-12
  • Opponent Red Zone Conversions: 72%, first in the Pac-12

So, mostly middle of the Pac-12, with some highlights like takeaways and red zone defense. Keep the takeaway and red zone defense numbers consistent, and improve the rest. Sounds easy, right?

While the Cougs didn’t lose a ton of bodies on defense, the bodies they did lose were some big time dudes. No matter. Time for new guys to step in and be The Guy this season.

Defensive Line

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Interior

Player Height and Weight Year
Player Height and Weight Year
Christian Mejia 6'3, 301 RS Senior
Amir Mujahid 6'3, 285 Senior
Antonio Pule III 6'4, 295 Senior
Ahmir Crowder 6'3, 285 RS Junior
Ty Garay-Harris 6'5, 285 RS Sophomore
Tristian Souza 6'1, 284 RS Sophomore
Nusi Malani 6'4, 282 Sophomore
David Gusta 6'3, 283 RS Freshman
Alec Eckert 6'3, 275 RS Freshman
Peter Eyabi 6'2, 225 Freshman
Rashad McKenzie 6'6, 293 Freshman
Bryson Lamb 6'2, 260 Freshman

Edge

Player Height and Weight Year
Player Height and Weight Year
Ron Stone Jr. 6'3, 245 RS Junior
Brennan Jackson 6'4, 263 RS Junior
Andrew Edson 6'3, 245 Sophomore
Quinn Roff 6'2, 242 Sophomore
Gabriel Lopez 6'2, 245 RS Freshman
Raam Stevenson 6'4, 230 RS Freshman
Lawrence Falatea 6'3, 230 RS Freshman
Cole Scott 6'4, 225 Freshman
Malachi Ledbetter 6'2, 245 Freshman
Jack Procter 6'2, 225 Freshman

Notable Departures: Willie Taylor III … and that’s mostly it

Notable Arrivals: Nusi Malani, Rashad McKenzie

Most Intriguing: Ron Stone Jr.

Nusi Malani is a transfer from Virginia who should rotate in this season. McKenzie is a true freshman with incredible size. The interior guys have plenty of experience, but McKenzie could add some heft to that position, while Malani should add some pass rushing from the interior. A big defensive line is tough to get in this part of the country, and Malani and McKenzie can help. Let’s hope young guys like McKenzie can adjust to big boy football.

As for the returnees, Christian Mejia, Amir Mujahid, Antonio Pule III and Ahmir Crowder all got good experience last season and will likely be the main rotation on the interior.

On the edge, Ron Stone Jr. gets the nod for Most Intriguing because of his absence for much of preseason camp. Stone’s been at practice but in a limited capacity. Is this him being on a pitch count, or is it something to worry about? We’ll see! Stone is perhaps the team’s best player on defense.

Brennan Jackson is a freak athlete who will look to build on last season. Raam Stevenson should rotate in, though he’s been limited since suffering an injury on Aug. 8. Andrew Edson will look to build off his freshman season that saw him play quite well early in the year. And Quinn Roff, who walked on in January of 2020, should see plenty of time, too.

All edge rushers will need to be ready because sometimes, WSU trots out a line of three or four edge rushers. Apparently it’s part of the team’s “Cheetah” package, according to Colton Clark of The Spokesman-Review:

The Cougars used disguised pressure packages and sent out unusual sets like the “Cheetah” front that became a staple of their third-down defense in 2021. At one point, the D-line consisted of three edges and a defensive tackle – Jackson lined up inside alongside tackle Antonio Pule while sophomore edges Andrew Edson and Quinn Roff rushed from the outsides. WSU’s linebackers and safeties added extra pressure and fake blitzes. Last week, Dickert had attributed some of WSU’s defensive success this preseason to the creative schemes the Cougars tend to employ on third downs.

Linebackers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 USC at Washington State Photo by Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Secret Weapons

Player Height and Weight Year
Player Height and Weight Year
Daiyan Henley 6'2, 232 RS Senior
Ben Wilson 6'1, 222 Senior
Joshua Erling 6'1, 222 RS Junior
Travion Brown 6'3, 230 Junior
Kyle Thornton 6'1, 226 RS Sophomore
Francisco Mauigoa 6'3, 230 Sophomore
Gavin Barthiel 6'1, 225 RS Freshman
Taariq (Buddah) Al-Uqdah 6'0, 220 Freshman
Hudson Cedarland 6'3, 228 Freshman
Darnell Stephens 6'1, 210 Freshman

Notable Departures: Jahad Woods and Justus Rodgers

Notable Arrivals: Daiyan Henley

Most Intriguing: Daiyan Henley

Daiyan Henley comes to Pullman from Nevada looking to be the leader on defense. His four interceptions last year at Nevada were tops for FBS linebackers, which is made more impressive by the fact that Henley only started playing linebacker in 2020. With two vets gone, Henley is an intriguing player and is expected to contribute big right away.

Travion Brown also returns as the squad’s most experienced member. A good athlete and someone who burst onto the scene in 2019, Brown looks to be one of the leaders, too. Ben Wilson and Francisco Mauigoa should get more playing time at linebacker this year. Both starred on special teams a year ago. Kyle Thornton, a former walk-on, burst onto the scene last year with 18 tackles, should see plenty of time, too.

There’s ample opportunity for this position group to find a breakout star this season.

Defensive Backs

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Washington State at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Money Makers

Player Height and Weight Year
Player Height and Weight Year
Armani Marsh 5'10, 188 RS Senior
Kaleb Ford-Dement 5'11, 191 RS Senior
Derrick Langford Jr. 6'3, 200 Senior
Jordan Lee 5'11, 202 Senior
Sam Lockett III 6'1, 205 RS Junior
Chris Jackson 6'0, 194 RS Junior
Cam Lampkin 5'11, 178 Junior
Armauni Archie 6'0, 183 RS Sophomore
Henry Kimmins 5'10, 200 RS Sophomore
Chau Smith-Wade 5'11, 184 Sophomore
Tanner Moku 6'0, 195 Sophomore
Jaden Hicks 6'3, 209 RS Freshman
Jackson Lataimua 5'11, 190 RS Freshman
Hunter Escorcia 6'1, 198 RS Freshman
Cole Norah 5'11, 195 RS Freshman
Kasen Kinchen 5'10, 175 RS Freshman
Leon Neal Jr. 5'10, 170 RS Freshman
Justin Anderson 6'1, 190 RS Freshman
Adrian Shepherd 5'11, 197 RS Freshman
Dylan Clinton 5'8, 170 RS Freshman
Javan Robinson 6'0, 170 Freshman
Tony Carter 5'11, 203 Freshman
David Johnson 6'2, 190 Freshman
Reece Sylvester 6'1, 180 Freshman
Joseph Taylor 5'10, 195 Freshman
Bryce Grays 5'11, 200 Freshman

Notable Departures: Daniel Isom and Jaylen Watson, both pursuing NFL careers with the L.A. Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.

Notable Arrivals: Jordan Lee, Sam Lockett III, Jaden Hicks, Adrian Shepherd

Most Intriguing: Sam Lockett III

WSU’s website doesn’t divide this group into cornerbacks, safeties or nickels, so we have this long list and practice reports to use.

Spokane product Sam Lockett III and Adrian Shepherd are reportedly in a battle for the no. 1 free safety position. Jaden Hicks is also in the mix there. So that’s a JC transfer and two redshirt freshman in the mix for that spot. I can’t wait for Lockett and Armani Marsh to be on the field at the same time, and it’ll happen a lot. Two Spokane kids who were teammate at Gonzaga Prep. Cool stuff.

Jordan Lee is reportedly the guy at strong safety. He’s a Nevada transfer looking to end his football career on a high note. Hicks or Shepherd are reportedly Lee’s backups, proving that the safety positions has some options back there, so expect plenty of rotations, at least early in the season.

At nickel, Marsh is locked in as he returns for his final college football season. Armauni Archie looks to be his backup. One guy named Armani, and another named Amauni. That won’t be confusing at all.

At corner, Derrick Langford Jr. and Chau Smith-Wade are reportedly the starters. Expect others to rotate in, including Chris Jackson and Cam Lampkin.

Special Teams

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Specialists

Player Height and Weight Year Position
Player Height and Weight Year Position
Colton Theaker 5'11, 198 Junior Kicker
Dean Janikowski 6'1, 220 RS Sophomore Kicker
Nick Haberer 6'5, 238 Sophomore Punter
Simon Samarzich 6'0, 220 Junior Long Snapper
Luca Rodarte 6'0, 200 Freshman Long Snapper

Notable Departures: None

Notable Arrivals: None

Most Intriguing: Dean Janikowski

Janikowski has been nearly perfect in preseason camp and there’s no reason to expect him to drop off once the season begins. He was 14 of 17 on field goals last season, tops in the Pac-12 percentage-wise.

Haberer revealed after last season that he played most of the year with a busted (non-kicking) foot, so his performance last year is more impressive than we may have originally believed. As always, this position group will be fine if they don’t screw anything up. That fake punt at Cal could have spelled disaster had Ron Stone Jr. not lucked into recovering the ball and running for a first down. No more of that, please!

Also, I’m looking forward to seeing what Renard Bell can do as a return (old) man.


Poll

Who intrigues you the most on defense and special teams?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Ron Ston Jr.
    (52 votes)
  • 52%
    Daiyan Henley
    (87 votes)
  • 4%
    Sam Lockett III
    (8 votes)
  • 5%
    Dean Janikowski
    (10 votes)
  • 5%
    Other
    (10 votes)
167 votes total Vote Now
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