Washington State Position Previews - Defense

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 29: Quarterback Bryan Bennett #2 of the Oregon Ducks avoids the diving tackle of Deone Bucannon #20 of the Washington State Cougars in the third quarter of the game at Autzen Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Eugene, Oregon. - Steve Dykes

Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we look at the defense of the Washington State Cougars.

A quick addendum to yesterday's offensive preview: Apparently, quarterback Connor Halliday wasn't present at Monday's practice for unexplained reasons, which certainly raises the question of whether or not he would see the field on Friday if he were needed. Leach said afterward that Jeff Tuel would "probably start" the Apple Cup, so take from that what you will.

There's not a whole lot that this defense does correctly. Going into the Apple Cup, Wazzu's D ranks 105th in scoring defense, 78th in rushing defense and 103rd in passing defense. Moreover, their one strength, rushing the quarterback, took a difficult blow when their best pass rusher didn't practice on Monday due to an apparent knee injury. Even with Washington's offensive struggles this year, you'd have to think that WSU's only chance of winning this game will come from relying on their passing game to make this a high-scoring affair.

Defensive Line: Allow me to remind you that Mike Leach trotted out the defensive line along with their offensive counterparts in the aftermath of the Utah game, lest you forget that, in his estimation, their effort "wasn't much better" than the offensive line's, whose play "bordered on cowardice." On paper, there's not much reason to fear this unit: they neither control the line of scrimmage (giving up an average of 4.1 yards per rushing attempt) nor swarm effectively to the ball carrier (only one player, redshirt freshman tackle Xavier Cooper, ranks among the Cougars' top-10 tacklers). Every 3-4 defense is predicated on having a dominant nose tackle who can demand double- or even triple-teams, and Wazzu simply doesn't have that type of personnel available yet.

Linebacker: The Cougars' defensive scheme calls for its four linebackers to pick up the slack that inherently comes from playing just three down linemen, though Travis Long plays more of a rush end-type of position as opposed to that of a true outside linebacker. For the most part, this unit has responded relatively well to that challenge, with four WSU linebackers -- Long, Darryl Monroe, Justin Sagote and Cyrus Coen -- ranked among the conference's top 45 tacklers, and three -- Long, Monroe and Coen -- among the top 25 in sacks. Unfortunately for Wazzu, as if their season wasn't enough of a train wreck already, Josh Wright of the Spokesman-Review reported yesterday that Long, a senior, sat out Monday's practice due to an apparent knee injury that could keep him on the sidelines during Friday's game. In addition to being WSU's best defender -- his 9.5 sacks ranks fourth in the conference -- Long has been an absolute soldier for the Cougar program during the last four years, and his hard work has been rewarded with a career 9-38 record. I know that we tend to become a bit tribal during rivalry weeks like this one, but can we all just take a step back and acknowledge how heartbreaking it has got to be for this kid to potentially miss out on the closest thing he'll get to a bowl game in his collegiate career? Anyway, filling in for Long will primarily be sophomore Logan Mayes, whom defensive coordinator Mike Breske said "is going to play a lot more" in the Apple Cup than he has in past games this season.

Cornerback: Oh, Nolan Washington. You might not be a starter, but I know a certain player named Kasen Williams who will be happy to see you again. Wazzu's starting CBs are fifth-year senior Daniel Simmons and fourth-year junior Anthony Carpenter, who have a combined three interceptions and 5.0 tackles for loss. Carpenter is the rangier athlete of the two, so he'll likely be assigned to cover the aforementioned Williams for the majority of Friday afternoon, but like most teams the Huskies have faced, this defense simply doesn't appear to have a response for an athletic tight end like Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Look for UW to try to establish a run game via former WSU commit Bishop Sankey in order to create one-on-one matchups that leave WSU's undersized corners on islands with Washington's receivers.

Safety: Husky fans will see at least one familiar name in the Cougar backfield in Casey Locker, the younger cousin of former Husky quarterback Jake Locker. He's been a steady presence in the Cougar backfield, playing in Wazzu's last nine contests and making 56 tackles in them, but is hardly an elite player. Starting next to Locker is Deone Bucannon, a junior who was suspended earlier this year for the first half of WSU's game against UNLV for a late hit that he delivered to a defenseless Eastern Washington receiver. Despite the missed time, Bucannon is far and away the Cougars' most productive defensive back, registering 95 tackles (third in the conference) and four picks.

As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and College Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.

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