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Oregon State Position Previews - Defense

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An advance look at OSU's veteran defense.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line

At DE, Jaswha James (Jr., 6-2, 255) is listed as a co-starter with Obum Gwacham (Sr., 6-5, 236), but Gwacham has started the past two games and leads the team with 4.0 sacks, so even if James starts, Gwacham is the name to remember.

The big men in the middle of OSU's 4-3 are Siale Hautau (Sr., 6-1, 350) and Bud Delva (Sr., 6-3, 299). Hautau, listed 11 pounds heavier than Danny Shelton despite standing an inch shorter, is truly a massive man. His size alone will demand extra attention, especially in the run game, but he lacks Danny's uncanny nose for the ball. His 9 tackles and single tackle for loss suggest a much more traditional role as a space-eater.

Delva has plus size for a 2nd defensive tackle in the Pac-12 (Evan Hudson is around 270). He's recorded 24 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and 5.5 TFLs.

DE Dylan Wynn (Sr., 6-2, 275) will take the final starting spot. He has been one of the better defenders on the team, with 3.5 sacks and 8.5 TFLs to show for it.

Given OSU's reputation for over-performing, under-recruited athletes, it may come as a bit of surprise that this defensive line outweighs Washington's at every position. Every starter (assuming Gwacham gets the edge over James) is a senior.

Despite the size and experience, the defense as a whole ranks 11th in yards per carry allowed (4.37), 7th in tackles for loss, and 7th in sacks.

Linebackers

Across the three starters at linebacker there are 85 career starts.

OLB D.J. Alexander (Sr., 6-2, 233) has contributed 59 tackles, a team-high 9.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, and an interception.

Jabral Johnson (Sr., 6-1, 230) starts in the middle, and has totaled 50 tackles and a single TFL.

Michael Doctor (Sr., 6-0, 233), he of the 36 career starts, has done a little bit of everything this year. 59 tackles (tied with Alexander for 2nd on the team), 5.0 TFLs, 3 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR, etc.

Secondary

Oregon State actually defends the pass pretty well. If you count non-conference games, the Beavers would rank 2nd in passing yards per attempt and 3rd in total passing yards allowed.

Lower it down to conference games and OSU has performed almost identically to Washington. 6.8 ypa (5th) compared to 7.0 for Washington (6th). 275 yards per game (7th) compared to 265 for the Huskies (5th).  Virtually tied with a passer rating allowed of 131. Hardly dominant, but solidly middle of the pack.

Experience is once again a bit contributing factor.

CB Steven Nelson (Sr., 5-11, 194) is not quite a shut-down corner, but he is certainly an above-average starter. He had 6 picks last year and has 2 this season. He has totaled 55 tackles, but for a corner that number is next to meaningless without the context of whether or not he was tackling his own after surrendering a catch.

The second starter at corner is Larry Scott (Jr., 5-11, 192), Pac-12 commissioner and the only underclassman set to start on the entire defense. I don't know much about Scott, but considering the relative success of this pass defense I'm assuming OSU's 2nd starting corner is not a total liability.

SS Ryan Murphy (Sr., 6-3, 214) and FS Tyrequek Zimmerman (Sr., 6-0, 213) round out the starting defense. Zimmerman leads the team with 79 tackles, and ties Doctor for the team lead in picks, with 3. Murphy has recorded 5.5 TFLs.

Conclusion

Despite the horrible ending and the head-scratching fumbles throughout, the Arizona game actually represented some progress for the Huskies.

Cyler didn't blow anyone away, but he finished 20 of 29 for 223 yards and converted several 3rd and 5 type situations by hitting Joshua Perkins right at the sticks or by scrambling past the marker before sliding to avoid hits.

I'm as worried about his ball security as anyone else, but he continues to avoid interceptions and complete passes at a good clip.

A steady run game is still required for that to be enough. With Shaq now back on defense near full time, we're back to RBBC. Dwayne Washington stepped up with a big 148-yard, two-score performance, and the team as a whole managed 245 yards on 60 rushing attempts.

For perhaps the first time this season, the offensive play-calling was not leading me to scratch my head, and the passing game was working to complement a dedicated ground attack.

Even simple things like having a tight end slip in to open space in the middle of the field on 3rd down situations that we harped on endlessly early in the year now appear to be regular fixtures. They even targeted Kasen!

Oregon State's defense is far from the worst defense the Huskies have faced in conference play, but holding ASU to 27 points was actually the highlight of conference play. Besides the ASU contest and Utah scoring 29 (in a 29-23 victory), every other Pac-12 team has managed at least 30.

Washington's approach (the only option it really has) of pounding the football should work here. Oregon State's best two performances against the run, statistically speaking, have come in the last week. Thing is WSU (held to an abysmal 35 yards on 22 carries) rarely cares to commit to the run, and ASU (103 yards on 31 carries) has averaged 3.72ypc in conference play. The Sun Devils have only scored 3 rushing touchdowns in 7 games.

Three weeks ago, Cal chose to pound the ball 47 times against the Beavers, and its efforts resulted in 269 rushing yards and 4 TDs.The week before that, Stanford managed 35 for 151 and 2 scores. Before that, Utah with 46 for 253 and 3 TDs.

Pound the ball, primarily with Dwayne Washington but also with Cooper and Coleman, and as long as Cyler can keep not throwing interceptions and stop fumbling without contact, things should work out pretty nicely for the Huskies.