This is a hard position to grade. Willie Tuitama has been knocked out of half the games and only played a portion of the Stephen F. Austin game. As the season has progressed Tuitama got better, but he also got little help from his offensive line. He was merely average against BYU, was too hurt to judge against LSU and showed flashes in two series against SFA. He came back down to earth against USC, before posting his best game of the season against Washington.
Take out the Stephen F. Austin game and this group has done nothing. Granted, the line play has not helped, but Wildcat backs have not been able to establish anything. Chris Jennings had the monster game against SFA and was a bright spot against LSU, but has not been able to get much going the last three weeks. Chris Henry has already been suspended for a game and has not shown the instincts that lead you to believe that he can be a premier back.
Xavier Smith has run the ball well in small doses, but has had some bad drops out in the pass pattern. H-Back Earl Mitchell has been a pleasant surprise, while Brandon Lopez has seen his role reduced.
The group is improved, but still dropping passes. They haven't come at crucial times like they did a year ago, but they still kill drives. More concerning is the inability to make big plays or consistently get open. They are hampered by the fact that the Cats have to max protect the quarterback and there is rarely more than three out in the pass pattern. Add to that the injury problems of Mike Thomas the first three weeks and you have a group that has been pretty average.
Injuries and poor line play has hurt this group. It is clear that Brad Wood is not 100% and Travis Bell has been out of action until the UCLA game. Brandyn McCall has played very well and we have seen quite a bit at Earl Mitchell lined up at tight end. If Bell can make more of an impact and Wood can get even a little healthier, then this group could be just fine.
Plain and simple, this group has not been good. Through five games Willie Tuitama had been sacked three times as many times as he had in the five games he played in 2005. Add to that the fact that the Cats have been held to negative rushing yards in their last three games and have only once rushed for more than 100 yards. Although the group is young, it is actually the two most experienced players who have struggled the most. Eben Britton, Blake Kerley and Daniel Borg still make their share of freshmen mistakes, but they have also made some solid strides over the course of the season.
It has been tough to run on the Wildcats and a large part of that is the play of the interior defensive line. The group got a boost when Yaniv Barnett returned to the line-up. They have not had great success pressuring the passer or making a lot of tackles for losses, but you can no longer push the defensive tackles around.
Few have made big runs to the outside and that is a credit to the defensive ends, but they have also failed to make big plays. The team only has five sacks, and Louis Holmes is the only defensive end to get to the quarterback. To make matters worse, Johnathan Turner has just eight tackles on the season. Not great numbers for a player who made a number of freshman All-American lists last year.
Spencer Larsen gets an ‘A' for his play, but the rest of the unit has been up and down. Ronnie Palmer is second on the team in tackles, but has been out of position too often. Dane Krogstad has been solid and Adrian McCovy is really coming on strong.
This group has prevented big plays and has been solid for the most part. They have given up quite a bit of yardage underneath and have been inconsistent when trying to tackle. Other than the Washington game Antoine Cason has lived up to the hype and Dominic Patrick has become the team's big hitter.
This group has been a mixed bag. Nick Folk won the BYU game and stepped into the punting job and has done mostly a nice job. Syndric Steptoe has had a few nice kickoff returns, but has been mostly a non-factor as a punt returner. For the most part the punt and kickoff coverage has been good.