The Hornets runs something like a 4-3 defense, but instead of 3 linebackers they use only 2. It is essentially a 4-2-5 with the third linebacker spot manned by a "rover" back, similar to what Arizona runs. This rover position is usually the "designated playmaker" if you will, of the defense, combining the skill sets and responsibilities of both a safety and linebacker. This means they usually have 5 DBs on the field at once, which might make you think they’re built to stop spread passing attacks, when in fact their strength and identity as a unit (from what I’ve been able to gather) is stopping the run. Who knows how good Sacramento State’s Week 1 opponent, Eastern Oregon, really is, but 10 tackles for loss and 3 sacks is a great day. Not to mention holding the mighty Mountaineers to less than 250 yards of total offense. It is also worth noting that in addition to being Head Coach, Jody Sears coordinates the defense as well. Now, let’s see how each individual defensive unit stacks up.
This is a fairly young unit for the Hornets but does feature team captain Nick Mazza, a 6-2 275 pound senior. As a 3 year returning starter he is quite experienced but is joined by 2 freshmen, the massive 340 pound Wyatt Ming and the slighter George Obinna (only tips the scales at 230). The defensive line is rounded out by experienced senior Antonio Hayes. He contributed 2 tackles for loss and a sack to the defense’s effort against Easter Oregon. This unit may be the strongest on a team that really prides itself on stopping the run, a notion which I’m sure will put Husky fans at ease. Though not a Division I opponent, Sacramento State held Eastern Oregon to a whopping 1 yard rushing by halftime, and 89 total in the game.
Playing with 5 DBs means the Hornets typically only have 2 true linebackers on the field at once, but they make them count. Preseason all-conference LB Darnell Sankey is a tackling machine, totaling 189 so far in his career, including 12 last week. He’s now finished with double digit tackles in his last 8 complete games. He’s the defenses best playmaker, causing two fumbles last week and rumbling 59 yards to the end zone after picking off a pass. Sankey having a huge game and making plays in the backfield will really make this defense tick and could cause problems for a young UW offense finding its feet.
Joey Banks is the star here. Playing the rover back position, he had an incredible first game for the Hornets. Totaling 10 tackles by halftime, he finished with 11 stops total, including 3.5 for loss and a sack. Only a redshirt freshman, he’s one of the defense’s most exciting playmakers, and will be expected to make plays against a young Husky passing offense. One of 4 defensive freshmen starters on the defense, he will be aided in the back end by another freshman Manny Scott-Anderson. Scott-Anderson enjoyed a productive game in Week 1, with 7 tackles.
On paper, Sacremento State certainley has a good, productive defense. Going just off their statistics from last week, they have a few players capable of making big plays. Not to mention the 4-2-5 defense puts a lot of speed on the field, which tpyically means more big plays. We don't need reminding how uninspiring (and that's being generous) the Husky run game was last week, and going against a team that does a pretty good job of stopping the run, this may cause some problems. That said, they are still an FCS opponent who be fielding a much smaller, slower, and less athletic team than the Huskies. On the other hand, that didn't seem to stop them in 2011 against Oregon State, and 2012 against Colorado. Regardless of the Buffaloes and Beavers teams at the time, Sacremento State is an FCS program that knows how to beat the big boys. Despite all of this, I don't anticipate the Hornets defense causing that many problems for a Husky Offense that will likely score more than enough points to put it away before the fourth quarter.