We have spent the past few months previewing the different position units. This will be our last week looking at the defensive side of the ball. Who will have the best secondary units in the Mountain West? Let’s find out.
San Diego State
The Aztecs should easily have the best secondary in 2020. Tariq Thompson will be one of the best defensive players in the league, and Darren Hall will be one of the best corners in the Mountain West. This team should have a special unit on the defensive side which is why they will likely be the preseason favorite in the West.
The Broncos’ secondary will have some new faces in 2020, but they could and should be even better this year. Both safeties will need to be replaced, but the trio of Tyreque Jones, JL Skinner, and Jordan Happle will be an improvement over Kekoa Nawahine and DeAndre Pierce. Jones and Happle both have experience starting, as Pierce and Nawahine both missed games to injury. Jalen Walker proved to be a lockdown corner, and the other spot will be split between Avery Williams and Markel Reed. Hybrid nickel Kekaula Kaniho is coming off an all-conference year and should have a big senior season.
San Jose State
The Spartans got a lot of interceptions in 2019, and it was mostly their run defense that held them back. The Spartans return some valuable players in the secondary like Bobby Brown II and Nehemi Shelton. I think it will be much of the same for the Spartan’s defense in 2020.
I’m a little nervous about this pick, but I think Todd Graham and company could help this unit improve after a solid 2019 season. We know the Rainbow Warriors had massive struggles against the run in 2019, but their pass defense was solid. I think they will continue to be a strength of the Hawaii defense in 2020.
The Rams only had six interceptions last season, but they only gave up 181 pass yards per game. Some of that was the fact that they faced quite a few teams that emphasized the run (where they gave up nearly 200 yards per game). This unit is tough to gauge, but they should be solid.
The Cowboys already had one of the worst pass defenses in the Mountain West, and now they have lost Logan Wilson to the NFL. Wilson played linebacker, but was an excellent in coverage. Wyoming is looking like a trendy preseason pick in the Mountain. If they have a big year, it will be because of their play in the trenches, not the secondary.
The Falcons allowed quarterbacks to complete 63.1% of their passes (the worst in the Mountain West) in 2019. That stat is probably the best way to gauge the production of their secondary. The Falcons are always going to limit yards, because their offense dominates the time of possession. But, their secondary will need to improve if they are going to beat Boise State week two.
The defense was a surprise in 2019, but the loss of Daniel Brown will hit the Wolf Pack hard. He was their best defensive back. Nevada will need to rely on some young talent in their secondary. There are some skilled guys in that position group, but they are going to need some time to gel.
Shaq Bond is a good talent and should have a solid senior year. However, the Aggies proved that they were vulnerable against good passing attacks like LSU, Wake Forest, and Boise State. This unit will be okay, but not good enough to keep the Aggies from giving up a lot of points in 2020.
Maybe I should have put the Bulldogs in the “Ugly” category. If it weren’t for New Mexico, they would have had the worst pass defense in the Mountain West. I was overly confident in what the Bulldogs would accomplish in 2019. I think they will improve in 2020 and be “bad” instead of “ugly.” Hopefully, their emphasis on developing young talent last season will pay off this fall.
The Lobos were far and away the worst pass defense in 2019. The addition of Danny Gonzales and Rocky Long should help this team take strides on the defensive side of the ball, but this team has a long way to go.
Jericho Flowers and Javin White are both gone from a secondary that did not have much production after those two. UNLV lost quite a bit of talent off of their defense. The secondary will be a major weakness this year; they will likely play a couple of true freshmen from their talented recruiting class, but those guys will need some time to marinate.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Next week we will preview the best special team units in the Mountain West.