Oregon State Defensive Preview

Rueben Robinson

Oregon State may have the weakest defense Arizona has faced this season. Read on to see the players to keep an eye on and what Arizona needs to do to be successful.

It is tough for a team averaging just under 17 points to win games when its defense allows over 31 points to its opponents. Oregon State has had problems keeping its opponents off the scoreboard, but it may not be all on the defense, which ranks as the seventh best in the conference, allowing 372 yards per game to its opponents.

The primary problem for OSU is that its offense leads the Pac-12 in turnovers, which certainly does no favors for a defense that returns just two starters from a season ago to this year's team.

A major concern for Mike Riley's defense is its ability to stop the run, as it currently gives up 149.8 yards per contest to its opponents. The Beavers have an entirely new defensive line from a season ago and so far the transition hasn't gone as smoothly as Riley would have liked. Through four games, it could be argued that defensive end Scott Crichton has been the defense's best player. The 6-foot-3, 258-pound redshirt-freshman is the Pac-12 leader with seven tackles for loss, and is the team co-leader with three sacks. Crichton's 26 tackles are good for second best on the team, and he is sure to be a problem for Arizona's young defensive line.

Opposite of Crichton is the team's other sack leader, Apache Junction native Rusty Fernando. The Glendale Community College transfer has three sacks and 11 tackles on the season and combines with Crichton to form a pass rushing duo that may present problems for Arizona.

Starting in the interior of the defensive line is 6-foot-2, 281-pound senior Kevin Frahm, who has recorded five tackles this season. Castro Masaniai, a 6-foot-2, 334-pound junior, is a starter at defensive tackle, and has recorded five tackles and a sack so far in three games.

After starting seven games as a sophomore at inside linebacker, 6-foot-3, 238-pound junior Rueben Robinson has moved to the outside linebacker position this year. The transition hasn't gone very well for Robinson, who only has eight tackles this season.

His back up, 5-foot-11, 222-pound sophomore Michael Doctor has played well when given the opportunity, as he ranks fifth on the team with 19 tackles and a sack. The team's other starting outside linebacker is 6-foot-2, 238-pound senior Cameron Collins, who ranks sixth on the team with 18 tackles this season.

The team's leading tackler is 6-foot-2, 243-pound junior Feti Unga, who has racked up 38 tackles so far in his first season of significant playing time, good for third in the Pac-12. Unga is a tough player in the center of the defense, but just like much of the defense, is inexperienced and is still improving as a player.

While the run defense has been a problem, the pass defense for Oregon State has been the team's strength so far. Despite losing one of its most experienced players in corner Brandon Hardin to a shoulder injury, the rest of the secondary has stepped up and ranks third in the Pac-12 with 222.2 passing yards given up per game.

Junior Jordan Poyer is the team's leader in interceptions with two, and has added three passes broken up, five passes defended, and 15 tackles. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner has played well in his first season as a starter and has already developed a knack for being tough to throw on with his ability to make breaks on the ball.

At right corner is Rashaad Reynolds, who has yet to record an interception in his career. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound redshirt-sophomore was due to back up Hardin this season, but has filled in nicely at the position with 12 tackles and a pass break up so far in the team's four games this season.

The team's most experienced defender is safety Lance Mitchell, who enters Saturday's game with 28 starts in his OSU career. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound senior is third on the team with 26 tackles and is a player that does well in both defending the run and the pass, as evidenced by his 183 career tackles and three interceptions.

The final starter for Oregon State is 6-foot-1, 218-pound sophomore Anthony Watkins. The safety ranks fourth on the team with 21 tackles and has recorded the team's other interception.

Keys to the game:

1. Run the ball: Oregon State is one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 at defending the run, and while Arizona has the 116th ranked rushing offense in the country, it has an opportunity to change that this week.

2. No turnovers: Against a team that struggles putting up points like OSU does, giving it extra chances or a short field would be damaging to Arizona's efforts.

3. Protect: As Nick Foles showed Saturday, if he's given time, he's more than likely going to make the right decision and get the ball to an open player. Crichton and Fernando both do well at getting to the quarterback, and keeping them off Foles has to be a high priority for Arizona.

4. Creativity: Arizona showed a variety of looks last Saturday against USC and really had the most success it's had all season both running the football and scoring points. Play-calling will be pivotal against Oregon State and a continuation of the game plan from last week will put the Arizona offense in a good position.

5. Momentum: Arizona never quit in last Saturday's game against USC and battled its way back to lose only by a touchdown. The confidence level for the team has to be at the highest point it has been in the past four weeks, and the Wildcats need to use that resiliency and positive outcome from last Saturday's loss to get its second win of the season.

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