Welcome to this week’s edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” For the next few weeks, we are going to focus on how teams performed at various positions. Up this week: linebackers.
Sophomore David Woodward had a combined 134 tackles and will be a preseason candidate for defensive player of the year. Tipa Galeai had 10.5 sacks; linebacker was an area of strength for the Aggies and should be again in 2019.
San Diego State
Kyahva Tezino might have been the best defensive player in the Mountain West. Tezino led the Aztecs with 127 combined tackles and 8.5 sacks. The Aztecs may have had their issues on offense, but they held their opponents to three yards per carry, which was the best in the Mountain West by a large margin.
Heading into the season, I expected the Wolf Pack to be awful on defense and great on offense. Well, I was wrong. Nevada was average on offense and surprisingly, pretty good on defense. Linebacker Malik Reed was the leader of the defense; he had 77 combined tackles and eight sacks. While the pass defense did struggle, the Wolf Pack held opponents to 3.6 yards per carry.
Jeff Allison. Need I say more? Allison proved to be a leader for the best defense in the Mountain West with 132 total tackles. He had some of his best performances against Boise State, as he had 26 tackles in two games against the Broncos. George Helmuth was a great compliment to Allison, as he had 87 total tackles and five sacks. Replacing Allison and Helmuth will not be a small task for the Bulldogs.
The number four run defense plus the number two pass defense equals a recipe for success. Unfortunately, the Cowboys did not have an offense to match their defense. If their defense had not spent so much time on the field, these numbers would likely be better. Logan Wilson had a nice year for Wyoming, finishing with 56 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions. He will be a leader for the Cowboys next season, as they lost a lot of defensive talent.
The leading tackler for the Falcons was a defensive back. That generally is not a good sign when it comes to stopping the run. However, the Falcons ranked second in the conference against the run giving up 1403 yards. The linebackers could have been better in coverage, as defending the pass was a bigger issue for Air Force. They finished 8th in pass defense. In my opinion, Air Force should be improved next year and might end up being my sleeper pick for most improved team.
I went back and forth on whether or not Curtis Weaver and Jabril Frazier should be considered linebackers. I decided to put them with the defensive line. The one thing Bronco fans learned this year was that players like Leighton Vander Esch are hard to find. Tyson Maeva (now dismissed from the team) and Riley Whimpey (injured in the middle of the season) struggled with consistency. It appeared that the Broncos had found something with Zeke Noa at the end of the season. I expect him to slide over to middle linebacker and play alongside Riley Whimpey in 2019.
Jahlani Tavai had a nice year for the Warriors with 82 total tackles and two sacks, but the unit as a whole struggled. Hawaii could not stop the run. When you give up 4.9 yards per carry, it is hard to get off the field. Run defense will need to improve significantly if the Warriors are going to overcome a tougher schedule and take the next step in the West.
San Jose State
When you give up over 200 yards rushing and nearly 300 yards passing, your defense has a lot of growing up to do. The Spartans unit as a whole would fall in the ugly category. It can only go up from here, right?
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, defense continues to hold this team back. The Rams had the worst rush defense in the Mountain West, surrendering 5.3 yards per carry. To top it off, the Rams only had 15 sacks on the season, ranking eleventh in the conference. The front seven will have to improve significantly if Colorado State is going to contend in the Mountain.
The Lobos had plenty of issues this year, and linebacker play was among them. The run defense was awful, as they gave up 4.9 yards per carry and 217 yards per game. The Lobos will need to fix issues on both sides of the ball if Bob Davie is going to save his job after the 2019 season.
When you give up 4.8 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per pass, you have major problems. It isn’t fair to place all of the blame on the linebackers, but the defensive unit as a whole will need to be much better for the Rebels if they are going to be a bowl team in 2019.
Stay tuned. Next week’s edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” will feature the defensive lines of the Mountain West.