Previewing the San Jose St. Spartans: Part II - Defense and Special Teams

We've already previewed San Jose St.'s Coaching and Offense here.  As discussed, head coach Mike MacIntyre is a former defensive coordinator and defensive coordinator Kent Baer brings a ton of experience.  They run a 4-3 system and return 7 starters from last year's team, 9 if you count the fact that they return 3 cornerbacks who started last year and return a former starting safety from injury.  They should be vastly improved from last season's poor performance which they gave up 34.7 points and 463.7 yards of offense per game.

Last week, the defense did not play as poorly against Stanford as the score would suggest.  They gave up 373 total yards, including 232 through the air and 141 rushing yards.  The rushing yards were earned on 40 carries, or 3.5 yards per attempt.  Stanford was able to connect on 22 or 31 pass attempts, but converted only 5-13 third downs (and 2-2 fourth downs).  SJSU was hurt badly by turnovers (3), including a fumble that gave Stanford a very short field early and a fumble which turned into a safety, and penalties (7 for 70 yards).  Granted, I did not watch the game, but the box score looks like SJSU's offense caused the blowout.

Defensive Line

The only returning starter on the defensive line is end Jr. Travis Johnson (6'3 244 lbs.).  Last year, he led the team with 7.5 sacks and added 9.5 tackles for loss.  Johnson will be backed up by Sr. Mohamed Marah (6'0 240 lbs.) and Jr. Vincent Abbott (6'0 230 lbs.).  Although light, Abbott played in 13 games last year and had 3 sacks and 7 tackles for loss.  Marah has apparently been a practice star who simply has not been able to stay healthy for the Spartans.

At the other end, SJSU will start Jr. David Tuitupou (6'5 272 lbs.), a JUCO transfer who started his career at BYU. He has more prototypical size for an end, but was known as a pass rusher on the JUCO level.

The interior of the line will be anchored by Sr. Andrew Moeaki (6'2 295 lbs.) and Sr. Joe Nigos (6'1 278 lbs.).  They'll be backed up by a pair of redshirt freshmen, Marcus Howard (6'2 282 lbs.) and Travis Raciti (6'5 283 lbs.).

Linebackers

Last year, SJSU started two true freshmen at linebacker, Vince Buhagiar and Keith Smith.  They both turned down bigger scholarship offers, Smith spurning Air Force and Utah while Buhagiar turned down WSU, and teamed to form a pretty exciting youth movement on the Spartan defense.  Smith led the team with 115 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.  Smith also had four sacks on his way to earning the award for WAC Freshmen of the Year.  At 6'2 225 lbs., he plays outside and is supported by Buhagiar in the middle.

Buhagiar (6'4 244 lbs.) was second on the team last year with 89 tackles.  He only had 2 tackles for loss and did not record a sack as the starting MLB.  He is more of the run plugger up the middle, and he did lead the team with 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss last week against Stanford.

The grey beard of the linebacking group is Sr. Tiuke Tuipulotu (5'11 205 lbs.), who starts at WLB.  He recorded 70 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks last year.  His play reflects his size, as he is described as "part linebacker and part safety", and will use his quickness to fly around the field.  Of the starters, he is best in pass coverage, but no linebacker recorded an interception last year.

The back-ups will be Sr. Pompey Festejo (6'0 220 lbs.), Jr. Kyler O'Neal (6'0 213 lbs.), and RS Fr. Derek Muaava (6'0 240 lbs.).  Obviously, Festejo brings the most experience.  He recorded 83 tackles in 2009, but missed the entire 2010 season with a broken foot.  He did get some time against Stanford as Buhagiar's back-up and recorded 4 tackles.  Muaava will play behind Tuipulotu and adds a lot of speed and athleticism to the group.  He recorded 3 tackles last week.

Defensive Backs

The Spartans return former starters at each of secondary spots, including 3 former starting cornerbacks.  Sr. Brandon Driver (6'0 180 lbs.) will start at one CB spot, while Sr. Peyton Thompson (5'11 180 lbs.) and Jr. Ronnie Yell (5'10 188 lbs.) will man the other.  Thompson is better in run support, and finished with 8 tackles last week, and will move inside on nickel/dime situation.  None of the CB's are ballhawks, as Thompson recorded 2 interceptions and Driver and Yell had only one each.

At safety, look for Sr. Duke Ihenacho (6'1 210 lbs.) to continue his return after missing all but two games last year due to a broken foot.  The two-time All WAC safety is good against the pass (5 interceptions in 2008) and solid against the run (89 tackles in 2009).  He'll be backed up by Jr. James Orth (6'2 195 lbs.), a former wide receiver who filled in for Ihenacho last year and made 50 tackles and led the team with 3 interceptions.

The other safety spot is manned by So. Bene Benwikere (6'0 185 lbs.) who played last year as a true freshman and made 74 tackles.  He's fast and athletic, and teams with Smart and Buhagiar to form a pretty impressive group of true sophomore talent.  Benwikere is backed up by Jr. Rob Fiscalini III (5'11 205 lbs.).  He was a high school sprinter who may play some NB as well.

Special Teams

So. Harrison Waid performs both kicking duties.  He's solid, not spectacular, but should improve in his second season.  He was 5-9 on field goals over 40 yards, 14-22 overall, and averaged 43.8 yards per punt last season.  He also placed 18 punts inside the 20.  Against Stanford, he made 1 of 2, making an 18 yard attempt and missing on a 23 yard attempt.

Starting RB Brandon Rutley and CB Brandon Driver are the primary return men.  They got plenty of action against Stanford, returning 10 kicks for 168 yards.  Rutley returned 1 punt for 8 yards.

That concludes our San Jose St. Spartan team preview.  Feel free to fire away with any additional comments or information.

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