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UCLA at Washington State Defensive Preview: The Silent Success of Alex Grinch

Last year in Pasadena, the Cougar secondary managed to create their own highlight reel. Will this year be any different?

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The literary term "pathetic fallacy" basically means that the weather matches the story. Well, it’s supposed to be 47 degrees and raining on Saturday at game time in Pullman. Mike Leach says he’s not worried about the weather, but I think at this point, Bruins have a lot to be worried about. With Josh Rosen’s status in question, and an offense that couldn’t get rolling and was flat out stopped when Mike Fafaul took over, we can only hope that the Cougars allow enough turnovers so that our defense actually ends up covering both sides of the ball. But I digress.

Washington State runs a 3-4 defense and is greatly improved this year, and most of the credit goes to second-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Offensive players like Gabe Marks (WR) say that the defense’s performance actually helps them play better, and they can feel the energy emanating from the other side of the ball. Grinch began building the defense in 2015, and was largely responsible for a Sun Bowl victory over Miami when the Cougars surrendered just 14 points, forcing three fumbles (recovering one) and intercepting two passes. Before Grinch’s appearance in Pullman, the Cougar defense gave up 38.6 points per game in 2014, a figure that ranked No. 117 nationally and led to coordinator Mike Breske’s firing. Here we are, just two years later, facing a much different Washington State team.

Wazzu’s defense has also seen it’s share of issues. Redshirt senior nose tackle Robert Barber was expelled from Washington State for his role in a summer party assault, and Sophomore linebacker Logan Tago was suspended this week from the team after he was charged with and arrested for second degree robbery (this new development will definitely have an impact this weekend). Let’s take a look at who is left, and what the Cougar defense will bring to the table Saturday.

Defensive Line

Redshirt Sophomore Hercules Mata’afa (what an appropriate name for a defensive lineman, huh?) has recorded 17 total tackles this year, 13 of those solo and also has four sacks to his name. Barber’s backup, Redshirt Sophomore Ngalu Tapa, has seen action in eight games in the last two years, with no recorded statistics. Redshirt Junior Daniel Ekuale recorded three solo tackles in their upset victory against us last year and has seven total tackles so far this year. When you look up the bios for these guys, no one is on a watch list. No one was a five star according to Rivals. But they’re getting the job done.


Unfortunately, the linebacker corps seemed to have a really good game last year against us in Pasadena, as can be seen by career highlights in their bios. Junior Dylan Hanser, Redshirt Juniors Isaac Dotson and Peyton Pelluer, and Redshirt Senior Parker Henry should round out your starters. Hanser blocked a punt against us last year and has ten total tackles this year. Dotson had four solo tackles against UCLA last year and has already racked up 24 tackles this year. Even though the Cougars laid an egg against Eastern Washington, Pelluer had ten tackles in that game alone and has 32 total this year. The only senior linebacker has the more modest statistics, with 12 total tackles and no sacks. Again, not a bunch of guys that are leaving early to go to the NFL, but somehow, Grinch is making it work.


A few of these guys had a field day on us last year. Sophomore Cornerback Darrien Molton had five tackles, fumble recovery and two pass break-ups in the upset victory in Pasadena in 2015, and has 23 solo tackles this year. Senior Safety Shalom Luani had five tackles, all solo, and two tackles for loss last year and this year recorded two interceptions against Boise State. Freshman safety Jalen Thompson, a local kid out of Downey, has put up 15 total tackles this year, seven of those in the game versus Stanford. Junior Corner Marcellus Pippins returned one interception for a touchdown against Eastern Washington and recorded three tackles against Stanford.


Between yesterday’s offensive preview and a look at the defense today, I’m starting to feel sick. My birthday is this weekend and all I want is a Bruin victory. I think I’m going to have to wait until next year. Even though our backup is a fifth year senior and his teammates have all of the confidence in the world, I don’t see us with a victory in Pullman. I don’t want Rosen playing hurt either, so this might just be a conference loss we have to swallow because we haven’t been able to recruit a solid backup quarterback.

Go Bruins!