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Beaver Football Review: Defense & Front Seven

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is part 4 of Building the Dam’s recap of the 2023 football season and status of the 2024 roster. Prior entries can be found here.

Part 1: Offense and Quarterbacks

Part 2: Running Backs & Offensive Line

Part 3: Wide Receiver & Tight End


Defense

The deliberate pace of the offense allowed the Beaver defense to average a manageable 66 snaps per game. The notable exception was the 87 snaps played against UCLA when Chip Kelly’s up-tempo rushing attack generated a lot of plays, but an average amount of points (24). Statistically, the Beavers were a top 4 defense in the Pac-12 in yards per game, behind UCLA, Utah, and Oregon. Thier 236 passing yards per game allowed was particularly impressive considering teams passed the ball more almost twice as much as they ran it against the Beavs.

After starting the season with impressive performances against some weaker offenses (and a brutal start against Cam Ward and a Washington State passing attack that ran up 28 points in the first half), the Beavers struggled to get pressure against the talented offensive lines of Washington and Oregon, which proved to be the difference between playing for a Pac-12 title and the Sun Bowl. Against lesser pass protection, OSU feasted, particularly against Utah, Colorado, and Stanford.

Defensive Line: Joe Golden (589), James Rawls (570), Isaac Hodgins (294), Semisi Saluni (148), Takari Hickle (97), Quincy Wright (31), Thomas Collins (24), Travis Shippen (8)

2023 Recap

With the Beavers 3-4 defense combined with opponents pass-happy gameplans, the Beavers spent much of their time in nickel with two interior linemen. Three redshirt seniors (Golden, Rawls, and Hodgins) accounted for 83% of the snaps at the position, while Saluni & Hickle filled in on spot duty throughout the year. The interior defensive line of a 3-4 defense doesn’t lend itself to gaudy highlights or statistics, although Golden was third on the team in pressures (24), and sacks (3.5).

2024 Forecast

Incoming Transfers: Tevita Pome’e (Oregon, 4 Snaps), Tygee Hill (LSU, 45), Amipeleasi Langi Jr. (Houston, 89 snaps), Nick Norris (Northern Colorado, 156)

Other Players on Roster: Jacob Schuster (R-So, 3 Star), Kelze Howard (Fr, 4 Star), Tiger Black (Fr, N/A), Jojo Johnson (Fr, N/A), Levi Wilhite (Fr, N/A)

Recruits: N/A

Similar to the offensive line, the interior of the 2024 Beaver defense will undergo a massive transition, and a strong group of inbound transfers will help ensure that. Pome’e and Fifita are both north of 300 pounds and fit the mold of OSU interior lineman. Hill and Norris could also be part of the outside linebacker/edge discussion, particularly on rushing downs. As far as returning players go, Saluni and Hickle will have an opportunity to work into a rotation, and Kelze Howard has a chance to step into a role in his sophomore year.

Edge Rusher: Sione Lolohea (569), John McCartan (479), Andrew Chatfield Jr. (398), Cory Stover (321), Nikko Taylor (35), Oluwaseyi Omotosho (5)

2023 Recap

Lolohea was the Beavers best run defender on the edge, an accomplishment that allowed him to see the field the most of the four players in the edge rotation and garnered him 2nd team All-Pac-12 honors. Chatfield Jr. was opposite and played primarily on passing downs. His 9.5 sacks were the most by an Oregon State player since Hamilcar Rashed’s 14 in 2019. McCartan was a balance between the two, finishing second on the team in sacks with 5, and 2nd among edge rushers in PFF run defense grade to Lolohea. The Beavers had 12 interceptions as a team in 2023, and the combination of Chatfield Jr. and McCartan were responsible for 25% of them.

2024 Forecast

Incoming Transfers: DJ Wesolak (Missouri, 0 snaps)

Other Players on Roster: Ryan Franke (R-Jr), Mathias Malaki-Donaldson (R-Fr), Tyree Blake (R-Fr), Zakaih Saez (Fr)

Recruits: Shamar Meikle (3 Stars), Will Haverland (N/A)

Cory Stover is the only one of the primary 2023 edge rotation slated to return to campus in 2024. His snap counts were similar to Chatfield with the exception of missing the UCLA game, and he split his time evenly between pass and run downs. He will almost certainly be looked on to shoulder a heavier load next year.

Wesolak was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school who chose the hometown Tigers over a number of other high-profile schools. He spent his last two years behind an experienced set of edge rushers but will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in Corvallis.

Assuming Stover and Wesolak are penciled in as starters, at least two more players will need to step up. Taylor saw snaps against SJSU, UCD, Stanford and Notre Dame once the games were well in hand, while Omotosho got his 5 snaps at the end of the Stanford game. The aforementioned Tygee Hill and Nick Norris may also be part of this mix and fill what looks like one of the most significant gaps in the 2024 roster.

Linebacker: Easton Mascarenas-Arnold (740), Calvin Hart Jr. (586), Melvin Jordan IV (178), John Miller (83), Isaiah Chisom (77), Makiya Tounge (73), Michael Erhart (2)

2023 Recap

Oregon State lost both starting linebackers from 2022, including a talented Omar Speights who transferred to LSU. Mascarenas-Arnold and Illinois transfer Calvin Hart Jr. stepped into the void and played admirably. Mascarenas-Arnold led the team in tackles (106), total stops (51), and picked up 2 interceptions to go along with them. That resume was enough to get the junior first team All-Pac-12 honors.

2024 Forecast

Incoming Transfers: N/A

Other Players on Roster: Mason Tufaga (R-So), Porter Phillips (R-So), Kord Shaw (R-Fr), Clive Pond (Fr)

Recruits: Dexter Foster (3 Stars), Gyriece Goodman (3 Stars)

Jordan IV and Chisom started at linebacker against Notre Dame and gave us a preview of what could be the starting linebacker combination in 2024. Miller also saw a decent amount of time in that bowl game. Tounge was part of the top 4 rotation along with Jordan before injuring his knee early in the season on special teams. Mason Tufaga transferred from Utah prior to the 2023 season and is another one to keep an eye on. The experience may not be there, but the Beavers have replaced both starting linebackers for two years running under Bray and held up just fine.