This week, we are continuing our preview of different position groups for each Mountain West team. Over the past few weeks, we have covered each unit on the offensive side of the ball; now, we head over to the other side. Let’s preview the good, bad, and ugly defensive line units.
Call this a homer pick if you want, especially since the Broncos are replacing four starters. But I think their defensive line is going to be deeper and more well rounded. Demitri Washington replaces Curtis Weaver and will be one of the best pass rushers in the conference. Sale Igheion split time with Sonatane Lui last year and was basically a starter. I think this unit is going to surprise a lot of people.
San Diego State
The best rush defense and the number three pass defense in the country returns plenty of talent this season. The defensive line (and the defense in general) should be a strength of this squad. The Aztecs finished last season with 31 sacks and should surpass that number this season.
Similarly to the Aztecs, the Cowboys were a force against the run all season. They were also solid in getting to the quarterback all season, finishing the year with 31 sacks. Wyoming and San Diego State will likely battle for the top spot, but the Cowboys have some vulnerabilities in the secondary that will force their defensive line to step it up.
This pick might be a bit of a stretch, but I really felt like the Colorado State defensive line showed significant improvement in 2019. I think they will continue to take steps in that direction under a tough-minded coach like Steve Addazio. The Rams finished fourth in sacks last year, finishing below the three teams above.
This is a dangerous pick, but if there is one thing that I have learned in the last few years, that is to never doubt a Rocky Long defense. This unit does not have the talent that his San Diego State teams did, but they were decent last year and should show enough improvement under Long to be a strength of the team.
I know there will be a lot of new faces on the defensive line for the Falcons, but I trust that Troy Calhoun and company will make sure that their defensive line is ready to roll. Air Force had one of the best run defenses in the country last season, surrendering only 3.5 yards per carry. Their offense does a great job of keeping this unit fresh by dominating the time of possession. It will be very important that the Falcons get to the quarterback early and often this season, because their secondary will likely be a weakness.
Like Colorado State, I was surprised by the Wolf Pack’s play on the defensive line last season; they were very average. With that being said, it is looking like Nevada will be relatively young on the defensive line and will face some teams that are really good at running the ball. They were mediocre last year, and I think that is the best case scenario in 2020.
The Bulldogs underachieved on the defensive side of the ball in 2019, but they were young and should show signs of improvement in 2020. Last season, the Bulldogs were decent against the run, giving up 4.3 yards per carry. But, they were awful at getting to the quarterback. I think they will take steps in the right direction this season, but they won’t quite be good enough to land in the “Good” category.
The Aggies defensive stats were a little misleading in 2019. They finished tenth in rush yards allowed, but they were among the top half in yards per carry. They were also sixth in sacks. The Aggies did lose some talent on that side of the ball, and their production took a noticeable dip after the injury to David Woodward who is now off to the NFL. I think the Aggies will take a step back on defense, and with some new faces on offense, they will likely be spending a lot of time on the field.
San Jose State
Play on the defensive line kept the Spartans from being a true threat in the West last season. I think 2020 is going to bring many of the same issues. The Spartans had the worst rush defense in the Mountain West last season and managed only 17 sacks. It is hard to see things getting much better in the trenches. San Jose State will once again finish near the bottom in both of those statistical categories.
The Rebels made a solid hire in Marcus Arroyo, and I think his presence will be quickly noticed on the offensive side of the ball. But, the Rebels need a lot of help on the defensive side of the ball, especially on the line. The Rebels gave up more than five yards per carry on the ground and were worst in the conference, managing only 12 sacks. The Rebels also have the most brutal schedule of any team in the conference. The recruiting will eventually pay off, but this defensive line is going to struggle in a big way this season.
In 2020, the Rainbow Warriors gave up well over five yards per carry and were pushed around by nearly all of their opponents. Yes, they stepped up against their division foes, but the difference in size and skill was noticeable both times they played Boise State. If you are going to struggle against the run, you better be really good at getting to the quarterback. Hawaii managed only 17 sacks in 2019. I think they will show slight improvements in both of those areas under Todd Graham, but I expect this unit to be a weakness for this Hawaii team.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Next week, we will be previewing the linebacker units of the Mountain West.