I can see the light at the end of the offseason tunnel, so it’s about time to really dive into what we’re going to see this season.
Following up our breakdown of the best offenses our Huskies will face this season, let’s take a deep dive into the best defenses we will face this year.
Oregon is the easy pick for the best defense that we’re going to play this season. From a talent perspective, has the best assemblage of defensive talent that we’ll see in regular season play, and arguably the most defensive talent in the conference. Star Edge player and projected top 10 draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux headlines a projected starting defense that features 6 top 100 recruits.
Thibodeaux is the star in the trenches, but the talent is distributed throughout the Ducks’ defense. Noah Sewell played well last year in the shortened season despite being hampered by injury for significant stretches, and Justin Flowe and Keith Brown figure to emerge as either significant contributors or immensely talented depth at ILB. In the secondary, Mykael Wright and Dontae Manning project as starting CBs looking to help the secondary bounce back from a down year that saw significant opt-out and draft attrition.
While there is clearly a lot of talent on Oregon’s defense, we’re looking for the best defense that we’ll face this year, and there are a number of questions to be answered before we can crown them as the best. Most glaringly, Oregon’s DC last year, Andy Avalos, is now the HC at Boise State, and former Cal and Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter is the new DC. While I like the DeRuyter hire for the Ducks, there will always be questions during the transition between coordinators. Additionally, the Ducks have concentrated turnover or new starters at several positions, particularly in the secondary that could make the coordinator transition a bit rockier than otherwise expected. If DeRuyter can whip the defense into shape quickly, Oregon has national top 10 defense potential.
Michigan should be another popular choice for being the best defense we face this year as a unit that largely mirrors Oregon’s situation. Loaded with talent, the Wolverine defense is headlined up front by 4th year Edge Aidan Hutchinson and former top 50 recruit, DT Chris Hinton, as well as in the defensive backfield by former top 15 recruit, safety Daxton Hill.
While Michigan 2021 defense won’t be as fearsome as the top 10 units fielded during the early Harbaugh years, the depth, experience and high end talent is all there to be a strong defense. Unit cohesion will be the deciding factor for the Wolverine’s defense in week 2. Similar to Oregon’s situation, Michigan will be breaking in a new defense under Defensive Coordinator Mike MacDonald. MacDonald, the former linebackers coach for John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens, brings an aggressive and multiple defensive scheme that should mesh well with the personnel on the roster and build on the defensive philosophies of former coordinator Don Brown. However, while there may be experience and talent on the roster, linebacker play was a question mark last year, and the shuffle to shore up weak areas of the defense led to breakdowns across the board. Macdonald will have his work cut out for him over the next few weeks.
Unlike the last two picks, Cal is a ‘21 opponent that I know will field a fundamentally sound and well coached defense where the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. As we’ve seen consistently over the last few seasons, Justin Wilcox and his staff have done a good job at developing their players into solid football players. While the overall statistical performance is often rather middling on a national level, Cal is the type of divisional rival that you never want to take lightly.
This year, Cal’s defense will be the team in the conference that will be most defined by experience. 6 of the 11 projected defensive starters will be at least 4th year players (Kuony Deng & Cameron Goode are 6-year players and Luc Bequette is going into his 7TH!) and Cal will have 10 defensive players overall who are 5th year players. That depth of experience is unmatched, and with Cal’s reputation for development of underrated players, there should be a very high floor for this defense.
The young players that find the field should be strong up-and-comers who I am very familar with. Sophomores Mo Iosefa (ILB, 6-3, 235) and Stanley McKenzie (NT, 6-2, 340) are two studs out of Hawaii who both project to Cal’s starting line up and could be their most physically talented players on defense. McKenzie in particular could be a star in the making as he is the type of trench player that Cal doesn’t always have on the LOS. He lacked prototypical height coming out of HS, but he fits what Cal wants to do in the middle of the defense and can be the sort of anchor that elevates the LB play behind him. How quickly these younger players can find the field will determine Cal’s ceiling in the conference and how well Cal can match up against our massive line and bruising running game.
As is true most years, the Pac-12’s depth and parity offers a number of dark horse contenders for the best defense. Arizona State could be much like Oregon and Michigan this year with the talent that they’ve stocked on their roster over the last few years under Antonio Pierce. As those classes find their footing and hit their stride, we could see a rapid swing in the performance of ASU’s defense.
On the flip side, experienced and well coached defenses like Stanford and Utah could pose a unique challenge to us similar to Cal (only if Utah emerges from the south to play in the conference championship). Teams like these thrive on older players who have developed physically and can punch above their weight relative to the younger more talented teams. Bullying them in the trenches might not be an option if it comes down to that, and that might be our MO this year.
Coach B’s Pick: Oregon
Who will be the best defense we face in 2021?
This poll is closed