Sunday, December 22, 2013

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Preview: Defensive Line

Defensive end Ryan Mueller had 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks during the regular season.
Starters: Junior weakside end Frank Clark (6'2", 273 lbs.) is the headliner of the group. As a Second Team all-conference selection, he started the season a little slowly but ended with 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The other defensive end will likely be junior Brennen Beyer (6'3", 250 lbs.), who has bounced from SAM linebacker to weakside end to SAM linebacker and now to strongside end. Despite starting every game this season, he has just 25 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks, so his playmaking skills are somewhat lacking. Fifth year senior Quinton Washington (6'4", 301 lbs.) is the nose tackle, and he holds the point of attack fairly well but has made just 19 tackles while being hampered by a nagging back injury. Senior Jibreel Black (6'2", 278 lbs.) is the 3-tech tackle and can give interior linemen trouble with his quickness, but generally, he lacks the bulk to hold up in the power run game, which could very well be an issue against Kansas State.
Backups: Redshirt sophomore Keith Heitzman (6'3", 280 lbs.) began the season as the strongside end but is more of a stopgap player with 8 tackles and .5 tackles for loss. Redshirt freshman Chris Wormley (6'4", 289 lbs.) has played end and 3-tech tackle, and while not a dominant player, he has flashed potential with 17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Redshirt freshman Ryan Glasgow (6'4", 300 lbs.) has played a fair amount at defensive tackle but has just 2 total tackles to show for it, and redshirt junior Richard Ash (6'3", 314 lbs.) has 3 tackles on the season. The backup weakside ends are sophomore Mario Ojemudia (6'3", 250 lbs.) with 20 tackles and 1.5 sacks and freshman Taco Charlton (6'6", 270 lbs.) with 2 tackles and .5 tackles for loss.

Starters: Redshirt junior left end Ryan Mueller (6'2", 245 lbs.) is the star of KSU's defensive front, racking up 61 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 3 quarterback hurries, and 4 forced fumbles this year. That performance earned him first team all-conference honors and mention on some All-America teams. On the other end is senior Alauna Finau (6'1", 258 lbs.), who has 20 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and .5 sacks on the year. Sophomore left defensive tackle Travis Britz (6'4", 293 lbs.) has 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. Senior right defensive tackle Chaquil Reed (6'3", 309 lbs.) has 33 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks, and he runs pretty well for a big guy.
Key backups: Redshirt sophomore defensive end Marquel Bryant (6'3", 241 lbs.) has 13 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks, and junior defensive tackle Valentino Coleman (6'3", 285 lbs.) has 4 tackles as Britz's backup. The only other defensive lineman to play in even half of the Wildcats' games is redshirt junior defensive end Laton Dowling (6'3", 254 lbs.), who has just 3 tackles on the year, but that includes 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

Michigan is #27 in the country in rush defense with 139 yards allowed/game, and Kansas State is #40 giving up 145 yards/game. Against the pass, Michigan is #68 with 23 sacks, and Kansas State is #48 with 27 quarterback takedowns. Statistically, there's not a ton that separates these two teams. In watching Oklahoma's 41-31 win over the Wildcats in game 11, I was not impressed with the defensive line. Granted, Oklahoma was the #11 team in the country, but Finau and Coleman looked particularly vulnerable in the running game. They don't flip their defensive line much, so Mueller has been able to rack up a lot of his numbers against teams' right tackles, who are generally inferior to the left tackles. Against Michigan, Mueller will face likely one of his best opponents this year in Michael Schofield. Britz and Reed might be able to get a little bit of penetration, but Michigan's improved offensive line play in the last couple weeks of the season should be sufficient to have a decent day. The Wildcats have the better individual statistics and perhaps the best overall player in Mueller, but with the way Clark, Ojemudia, Beyer, Wormley, Henry, Washington, and Black work together to funnel things to the inside linebackers, I think the advantage right here goes to . . .



  1. In your opinion, is there a Brandon Graham, James Hall, or Glen Steele on the roster right now? Is there a guy that you think will ever develop into a disruptive player that offenses have to scheme against? Seems like one of the only things missing from Hoke's recruiting hauls (which is kind of ironic since that's his and Mattison's group). I could argue that there's a recruit/player at every other position group with first team Big Ten potential. Don't see it at DL. Thoughts?

    1. Agreed, Magnum. The DL is a concern going forward.

      Overall, the defense returns a ton of guys next season, but the tackle situation makes me think things won't improve much. The two best inside guys are gone and a third (Pipkins) is a huge question mark. Henry could shift to nose, but then 3-tech is really shaky.

      It's funny--it feels like last offseason all over again, desperately hoping for a quick ACL recovery.

    2. No love for Willie Henry? :)

      I thought he looked pretty promising for a redshirt freshman.

    3. DL and OL I feel are tied for most concerning position group next year.

      I really think OL is going to be better, but I'm basing that off practice and recruiting hype, not on field performance. Pencil in some starters from left to right: Mags, Bosch, Glasgow, Kalis, Braden. Technically there is only 1 new starter... but these are starters returning from a team who had negative rushing yards in consecutive games this season.

      DL. I have nothing but faith in Mattison, but I don't know if the talent or numbers are there inside. Willie Henry has one of the spots, but who is next to him?

    4. @Guido
      Henry is fine, no doubt. What I meant was that if Henry has to shift to nose, then the 3-tech spot would become worrisome without him. Wormley, R. Glasgow and the RS freshmen would be the options.

    5. I think Henry and Charlton have the potential to be that type of guy. Maybe not top-ten picks like Brandon Graham, but consistently disruptive players like Steele.

  2. The only two I see with a possibility to be consistent disruptive forces would be Charlton or Wormley and that wouldn't be until both were Jr's or Sr's having experience and built up strength and explosiveness. Wormley more like a Glen Steele while Charlton more like Graham or Hall.

  3. No playmaker identified yet, but I'm confident it will come. Clark has evolved nicely and should be in for a big senior year if he returns.

    I have no worries about this DL given the mix of talent, depth, and coaching.