Newbies in the Middle

The Cougar defense will have to make do with a corps of nose tackles with no collective Division I experience among them. They'll be asked to rotate in and out with each other, solidifying the middle of the Cougar defense while playing one of the most physically demanding positions on the field. So are they ready?

"I hope so," answered defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi. "We feel we've done what we can to prepare them and they've made good progress. Are they ready? We'll see on Saturday."

"They're coming along," added head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "They're playing like players who haven't had a Division I football game experience yet, and I'm sure there's some nervousness and anxiety, but their willingness and how hard they're working is right on, and we just have to get their consistency and execution right."

The nose tackles that Coach Mendenhall and Coach Kaufusi are referencing are true freshman Eathyn Manumaleuna, redshirt freshman and converted offensive lineman Rick Wolfley, and juniors Mosese Foketi and Brock Richardson.

"We'll use all three, Eathyn, Rick Wolfley, Moses and maybe even Brock Richardson. They'll all get reps the first game," said Kaufusi. "We'll just have to see who gets it done and then go from there."

Getting it done at nose tackle in a 3-4 defensive system doesn't necessarily require a lot of reads, but quick, simple initial reads, coupled with being asked to maintain leverage in holding the line.

"That's what it is," said Kaufusi. "Control the line of scrimmage, knock the center back, and make sure the guard and centers don't get off on the linebackers. To do that they need to maintain a good pad level and we'll see how it goes for them."

Kaufusi has to make do with the collective inexperience that will fill the nose tackle position due to the loss of starter Russell Tialavea. Tialavea went down with ACL and MCL tears during the first scrimmage this fall, leading to the other nose tackles having to take on bigger roles.

"Yeah, I wasn't expecting this when I came in," said Manumaleuna, who looks to get the most reps initially. "I was thinking I'd redshirt for sure after the first week, but then Russell went down and I had to get going."

"Get going" is what Manumaleuna has done, leading to his teammates noting his progress and expressing confidence in what the young freshman, along with the other nose tackles, can get done.

"They've done well," said defensive end Jan Jorgensen. "They really didn't know what they were doing at first, but they're really worked hard and I think they'll do well against Arizona."

So does Manumaleuna hold the same confidence in themselves that Jorgensen and the coaches have in them?

"Yeah, I'm real confident. Nervous, but confident," said Manumaleuna. "I really didn't think I'd be ready after the first week, but I know that my team needs me and I've worked harder than I have ever before to get better. I have definitely gotten better and I feel I'm ready."

Manumaleuna, as mentioned, will likely see the most reps initially, as he looks to be the most well-rounded and capable of the four. Meanwhile, Wolfley looks to be mainly a run-stopper, while Foketi has been mentioned as the most athletic of the four and may see most of his reps during passing situations.

"They all have their own strengths," said Kaufusi. "We'll be watching them very closely this first game to see how those strengths work out [and] how they get it done on the field. The guys who get it done, they'll play. The ones that don't, they won't. It's really that simple."

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