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WSU vs. Portland State football preview: Jeremy Lutali and the Vikings defense

Portland State's defense struggled in Pullman last year. Will experience make it better?

Portland State will need more defensive touchdowns to keep up in Pullman.
Portland State will need more defensive touchdowns to keep up in Pullman.
William Mancebo/Getty Images

The Portland State Vikings put up little resistance on defense when they visited Martin Stadium last season. The Cougars racked up more than 700 yards of total offense and 59 points after punting on the first possession.

PSU does return everyone in a veteran defensive backfield, including cornerback Aaron Sibley. The senior was tied for third on the team in tackles with 53 and logged eight passes defensed while starting all 12 games a year ago.

But Portland State students may be displeased if Sibley plays well and the Vikings escape with a win.

Starting opposite Sibley is junior Xavier Coleman. He led the team is passes defensed last season, despite missing two full games. Senior safety Patrick Onwuasor nabbed one of two Connor Halliday interceptions in the 2014 meeting, taking his 42 yards to the house. Unfortunately for the Vikings, that was one-third of the defense's entire interception output for the entire year.


Washington State wasn't the only team to shred Portland State through the air. The Vikings gave up 7.5 yards per pass and 25 touchdowns against those six picks.

The front seven is led by middle linebacker Jeremy Lutali, who topped the team in tackles and tackles for loss as a junior. He is one of three starting linebackers listed in Portland State's depth chart, but defensive coordinator Malik Roberson has said the Vikings will be using a 3-4 setup with a "Bandit Backer" after injuries to the defensive line.

Along the defensive line, Spanaway native Sadat Sulleyman is the most disruptive returning starter. He tied for first on the team with 4.5 sacks last season, and posted 8.5 tackles for loss total. Interior lineman Daniel Fusi should also be interesting to watch, as he checks in at a robust 340 points.

Savali Talalemotu showed the ability to get into the backfield from the tackle spot, sacking the quarterback 4.5 times last year in 12 games and four starts.

Portland State did have more success defending the run than the pass, allowing 4.4 yards per rush. Overall, the Vikings allowed 5.9 yards per play and opponents put up 34 points per game.

With a new defensive coordinator, PSU is a bit of a wild card, especially in the first game. The Vikings do return their top back-end defenders from a season ago, so they could certainly be improved against the pass.

But it would take a lot of improvement to keep up with WSU on Saturday. The Cougars feature a loaded receiving corps and an uber-experienced, massive offensive line that is expected to put up points on a lot of teams.