Spring football has already started for some Mountain West teams, and the rest will start hitting the field in the next few weeks. We are going to spend the next few months previewing each position group and where each team stands. So far, we have looked at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive lineman this week we are going to take a look at the defensive lines.
In the small sample size that we got of the Rams this past season, they had one of the best defensive lines in the conference. They surrendered only 2.5 yards per carry and averaged four sacks per game. If Colorado State can maintain that type of defense over the course of the season, they could be a bowl team in 2021.
One could argue that the Bronco defensive line underachieved this past season. But their best defensive lineman was lost for the season in game two, and they had numerous other injuries that plagued this unit. However, they gained plenty of experience this past fall and should be at least two deep at each position.
San Diego State
20 sacks was a solid number, but the Aztecs were more than stout against the run. Opposing teams managed only three yards per carry, and this defensive line should be just as good, if not better, this fall.
I would say this is Wyoming’s best defensive line in the Bohl era, but will they be up to the task? The Cowboys had a consistent pass rush this past season, getting nearly three sacks per game. They also were stout against the run; I expect similar results this fall.
San Jose State
I’m not quite sure how they did, but San Jose State managed to completely transform their defensive line in 2020. They should be just as solid in 2021. The defensive line should be the heart of this squad heading into the fall.
I was kind of on the edge of where the Wolf Pack should land. I thought their defensive line would be the strongest part of their team, but they were just okay. They had 23 sacks in nine games, which is respectable. But it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. They allowed four yards per carry, so there is some room for improvement for the run defense.
I think you could make a good case to put Air Force in any of the three categories. Air Force was pretty stout against the run, but was not as elite as usual. The really puzzling statistic was that they managed only seven sacks. We know Air Force will have a potent offense this year, but their defense will have to take the next step if they are going to be a championship contender.
The Aggies had a decent pass rush, but the run defense left a lot to be desired. Utah State allowed 5.3 rush yards per carry, the second worst in the conference. The Aggies really struggled to find their footing this past season; they made some nice additions in the grad transfer market that should help this season.
One of the best pass rushes in the conference (25 sacks in six games) was also one of the worst rush defenses. The Bulldogs allowed 5.2 yards per carry. Fresno State is expected to have one of the best offenses in the conference. Will they have a defense to match up?
It feels a little weird to put a defense led by Rocky Long in this category. The Lobos allowed 4.8 yards per rush and only managed 14 sacks. Long and Gonzales deserve the benefit of the doubt, but these numbers leave a lot to be desired.
The Rebels gave up 255 yards per game on the ground and managed only 14 sacks. They had far and away the worst rush defense and one of the worst pass rushes in the conference. They have a long way to go to take the next step.
The Rainbow Warriors had one of the worst run defenses in the country, allowing five yards per carry. The run defense really kept this team from being a true contender in the West. Todd Graham wants a team that prides itself on toughness; it starts with stopping the rush.
That’s it for this edition of “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.” Next week, we will be taking a peek at the toughest unit on each squad, the linebackers.