Eli Lucero, Herald Journal
What a difference a year makes in the defensive line for Utah State. Heading into the 2012 season, USU’s defensive line was filled with questions and unproven players. However, a year later, that same defensive line returns three starters and seven letterwinners from a group that spearheaded one of the best overall defenses in the nation as USU ranked among the top 15 nationally in five categories, including finishing tied for sixth in sacks (3.23 pg), seventh in scoring defense (15.4 ppg), 13th in rushing defense (113.8 ypg) and 14th in total defense (322.1 ypg). USU also ranked eighth nationally in passing efficiency defense (104.4) and 32nd in passing defense (208.3 ypg).
Utah State does have to replace two letterwinners here from a year ago in defensive end Al Lapuaho, who earned second-team all-WAC honors as a senior as he recorded 35 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, to go along with three sacks, and nose guard Havea Lasike who recorded 13 tackles, including 1.5 for loss in 2012.
Highlighting this group of returners is senior defensive end Connor Williams, who started all 13 games a year ago, and sophomore defensive end Jordan Nielsen. Williams earned honorable mention all-WAC honors in 2012 as he finished the year with 32 tackles, including 7.0 for loss, and a team-leading 6.0 sacks, which ranked fifth in the league. Nielsen earned second-team all-WAC honors a year ago as he led all USU defensive linemen with 35 tackles, to go along with 6.5 tackles for loss, and 5.0 sacks which ranked tied for ninth in the WAC. Nielsen also led the team with two blocked kicks on the season.
Another returning starter along the defensive line for USU is junior nose guard Elvis Kamana-Matagi who started eight games a year ago and finished the season with 2.0 tackles.
Other returners who made solid contributions in 2012 include senior defensive end Paul Piukala, junior defensive lineman B.J. Larsen, junior nose guard A.J. Pataiali’i and sophomore nose guard Travis Seefeldt. Piukala played in 12 games in his first year at USU and recorded 14 tackles, including 1.0 for loss. Larsen and Pataiali’i played in 13 games a year ago as Larsen finished the season with 19 tackles, including 5.0 for loss, to go along with 4.0 sacks and one interception. Pataiali’i ended the year with 24 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, to go along with one sack. Seefeldt also played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman and had 10 tackles to go along with one fumble recovery.
Arguably its most talented position on the field, Utah State returns a plethora of skilled players at linebacker, including three who earned all-WAC honors a year ago in senior Jake Doughty, junior Zach Vigil and sophomore Kyler Fackrell.
Even with all of its returning experience, Utah State does have to replace one starter here in Bojay Filimoeatu who finished the 2012 season with 71 tackles, including a team-leading 9.0 for loss. Filimoeatu also had 5.0 sacks as a senior to go along with one interception and one forced fumble in 13 starts. Another player that will not be back is Cade Cowdin who played in 12 games in his one year at USU and recorded 32 tackles, including 1.0 for loss.
Doughty, who has played in 38 games with 14 career starts at USU, earned first-team all-WAC honors in 2012 as he led the team and ranked second in the WAC with 109 tackles (8.4 pg). Doughty also recorded 3.5 tackles for loss during the year to go along with 1.0 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery.
Vigil earned second-team all-WAC honors as a sophomore as he finished second on the team and fifth in the WAC with 105 tackles (8.1 pg), to go along with a team-leading 9.5 tackles for loss, which ranked tied for sixth in the WAC. Vigil also posted 5.5 sacks in 2012, to rank tied for seventh in the WAC, and added one forced fumble and a blocked kick.
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