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WSU semester grades: Defense and special teams

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How did the defense and special teams do in the first six games of this amazing season? We rate each unit.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe the season is already half over — we wait for nine months for Cougar football to return, and then, without fail, the season just zooms on by.

Anyway, since I’m a teacher, I figured halfway through would be a great time to hand out some semester grades. It’s also a lot more fun to hand out good grades, which is something that’s easy to do when the team is 6-0 and ranked No. 8 in the country.

Important caveat: I’m just a dumb fan. I often don’t know exactly what’s going on out there. These are just my impressions as a dumb fan.

We started with the offense yesterday; let’s turn our attention to the defense today before the Cougs move into the second half of the season tonight against Cal. This was pretty easy!


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

Defensive line: A

Name Tackles TFL (Sacks) Run Stuffs* FF
Name Tackles TFL (Sacks) Run Stuffs* FF
Hercules Mata'afa 14.5 10 (4.5) 7 1
Nnamdi Oguayo 12 4 (3) 1 0
Logan Tago 9.5 1 (0) 5 0
Derek Moore 7.5 1.5 (0.5) 1 0
Garrett McBroom 7 3.5 (2) 5 0
Daniel Ekuale 5 1 (0) 1 0
* Stuffs are rushes stopped at or behind the line. They are not necessarily tackles for loss (since they include zero-yard gains), so adding sacks and stuffs won't necessarily equal TFLs … but maybe it should! Stats from FootballStudyHall.com

We worried a lot about the defensive line in the offseason. It turns out that — at least so far — we were dumb for doing so. Led by perhaps the most disruptive player in college football, Hercules Mata’afa, this unit has been the foundation of what the defense has accomplished so far. (Which is a lot!) They spend a ridiculous amount of time in the opponents’ backfield, and their relative lack of size has been made up for with speed.

Most impressive, I think, has been the play of Logan Tago and Garrett McBroom, both of whom have bumped up a weight class to play their positions. And Derek Moore has been pretty darned good with Nnamdi Oguayo sidelined by a mysterious injury happy and healthy.

Our two biggest concerns heading into the season were that they were too light and that the depth wasn’t good enough. I think it’s clear we no longer have to worry about the first one: They have yet to get pushed around by any opponent and have come up huge in short yardage situations multiple times in the past two weeks against USC and Oregon.

The second? Well, let’s hope we never find out.

Poll

Your DL grade?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    A
    (127 votes)
  • 11%
    A-
    (18 votes)
  • 3%
    B+
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    B
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    B-
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    C+ or worse
    (3 votes)
156 votes total Vote Now

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

Linebackers: A

Name Tackles TFL (Sacks) Run Stuffs* Int (PBU) FF
Name Tackles TFL (Sacks) Run Stuffs* Int (PBU) FF
Jahad Woods 20 3 (1.5) 4 0 (0) 1
Isaac Dotson 19.5 2.5 (0) 7 0 (1) 0
Frankie Luvu 18 6.5 (3.5) 7 0 (0) 0
Hunter Dale 17 6 (2) 6 0 (0) 1
Nate DeRider 15.5 1.5 (0) 5 0 (0) 0
Peyton Pelluer 13 0.5 (0) 3 1 (1) 0
Dylan Hanser 8 1 (1) 1 0 (0) 0
Dillon Sherman 6 1 (1) 1 0 (0) 0
Kirkland Parker 4.5 0 (0) 0 0 (0) 0
Justus Rogers 3 0.5 (0) 2 0 (0) 0
* Stuffs are rushes stopped at or behind the line. They are not necessarily tackles for loss (since they include zero-yard gains), so adding sacks and stuffs won't necessarily equal TFLs … but maybe it should! Stats from FootballStudyHall.com

It nearly defies belief how well this unit has performed this year. If not for Mata’afa, a good case could be made for Frakie Luvu as defensive MVP. And the way the inside backers have been decimated by injuries, yet not missed a beat? And the production from new nickel Hunter Dale? Pretty sure Ken Wilson and Roy Manning deserve raises at the end of this season.

Easily the most impressive thing about that chart is how Jahad Woods sits on top of it. The redshirt freshman has played (basically) 3.5 games, and he has exceeded any reasonable expectation anyone who isn’t a parent might have had for him as he stepped in for Peyton Pelluer. While it appears he hasn’t always been gap sound, he flies around the field and hits anything that moves, proving to be a sure tackler in the process.

Inside backers keep dropping like flies, so we’ll see if they can keep this up. But for now, these guys have been flat awesome.

Poll

Your LB grade?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    A
    (94 votes)
  • 25%
    A-
    (36 votes)
  • 4%
    B+
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    B
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    B-
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    C+ or worse
    (1 vote)
141 votes total Vote Now

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

Defensive backs: A

Name Tackles TFL (Sacks) Run Stuffs* Int (PBU) FF
Name Tackles TFL (Sacks) Run Stuffs* Int (PBU) FF
Jalen Thompson 27.5 1.5 (0) 1 3 (2) 0
Robert Taylor 18 0 (0) 0 2 (1) 0
Darrien Molton 16.5 0 (0) 1 0 (0) 0
Marcellus Pippins 15.5 2.5 (1) 1 0 (1) 2
Sean Harper Jr. 12 0 (0) 1 1 (1) 0
Marcus Strong 5 0 (0) 0 1 (2) 0
Skyler Thomas 3 0.5 (0) 1 0 (0) 0
* Stuffs are rushes stopped at or behind the line. They are not necessarily tackles for loss (since they include zero-yard gains), so adding sacks and stuffs won't necessarily equal TFLs … but maybe it should! Stats from FootballStudyHall.com

Sensing a theme here? Man, I haven’t handed out so many As since that time I accidentally left the review notes up on the white board during a test. But how do you find fault with any of these units? I can’t: The DBs have taken the ball away seven times and broken up another seven passes. They’ve got 4.5 tackles for loss between them and a pair of forced fumbles.

Sure, they haven’t exactly seen a who’s who of passers this season ... but the one time they did, they more or less embarrassed presumptive NFL first rounder Sam Darnold and his receivers, including one-time WSU commit Deontay Burnett.

I think what I really love here is that lots of guys have come in and out at important times and really none have been picked on. It’s remarkable.

Poll

Your DB grade?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    A
    (36 votes)
  • 46%
    A-
    (61 votes)
  • 17%
    B+
    (23 votes)
  • 6%
    B
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    B-
    (0 votes)
  • 3%
    C+ or worse
    (4 votes)
132 votes total Vote Now

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

Place kicker: A

Place-Kicker PAT FG Pct
Place-Kicker PAT FG Pct
Erik Powell 28-28 12-13 92.30%

Erik Powell has been awesome, full stop. If you don’t vote this an A, there’s something wrong with you. In fact, you have no choice.

Poll

Your PK grade?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    A
    (110 votes)
  • 3%
    A
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    A
    (3 votes)
  • 5%
    A
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    A
    (8 votes)
132 votes total Vote Now

Punters: D

Punter Punts Avg TB FC I20
Punter Punts Avg TB FC I20
Erik Powell 12 40.3 1 1 1
Kyle Sweet 9 36.8 1 2 2
Mitchell Cox 5 31 0 3 5
Stats from FootballStudyHall.com

There are only two reasons why this isn’t an F: Mitchell Cox has been fine when called on to put the ball inside the 20, and — while it’s hard to remember — the punting was fine for three games.

How to get back to that? I guess that’s why Eric Mele makes all that money. Figure it out, coach.

Poll

Your P grade?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    B- or higher
    (5 votes)
  • 5%
    C+
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    C
    (9 votes)
  • 17%
    C-
    (23 votes)
  • 17%
    D+
    (23 votes)
  • 20%
    D
    (28 votes)
  • 29%
    F
    (40 votes)
135 votes total Vote Now

Punt returners: D

Punt Returner Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Punt Returner Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Jamal Morrow 9 3.9 0 14 1 (1)
Robert Taylor 1 -2 0 1 0 (0)
Stats from FootballStudyHall.com

Here’s the thing: The punt return game has hurt us a couple of times (fumbled punt, misplayed punts against Boise State) while it also has added near zero value. In receiving 25 punts, WSU has gained a total of 33 yards. That’s 92nd nationally.

And don’t tell me “oh, there’s just nothing there.” Not when I watch teams try and contain Dante Pettis and he’s still churning out quality returns.

I’m pretty sure Mike Leach is content with fair catches on every punt, given that we’ve seen soooooooooooo many of them since he took over. I think this is a mistake. It sure would be nice to add some value in the return game.

Poll

Your PR grade?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    B- or higher
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    C+
    (8 votes)
  • 25%
    C
    (28 votes)
  • 19%
    C-
    (21 votes)
  • 12%
    D+
    (14 votes)
  • 22%
    D
    (24 votes)
  • 4%
    F
    (5 votes)
108 votes total Vote Now

Kickoff returners: C

Kick Returner Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Kick Returner Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Robert Taylor 5 20 0 0 0 (0)
Renard Bell 3 18 0 0 0 (0)
Keith Harrington 1 22 0 0 0 (0)
Stats from FootballStudyHall.com

Same deal here, minus the negative plays: No value added yet. Higher grade for the fact that it hasn’t hurt the team.

Poll

Your KR grade?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    B+ or higher
    (2 votes)
  • 9%
    B
    (10 votes)
  • 7%
    B-
    (8 votes)
  • 20%
    C+
    (21 votes)
  • 40%
    C
    (43 votes)
  • 13%
    C-
    (14 votes)
  • 5%
    D+
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    F
    (0 votes)
105 votes total Vote Now

Kick/Punt Coverage: A

If we’re not giving up TDs, we’re all good in my book. #SpecialForces

Poll

Your kick/punt coverage grade?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    A
    (42 votes)
  • 23%
    A-
    (25 votes)
  • 19%
    B+
    (20 votes)
  • 11%
    B
    (12 votes)
  • 3%
    B-
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    C+ or lower
    (2 votes)
105 votes total Vote Now