PULLMAN -- Things looked decidedly dim at defensive end when starting DE Matt Mullennix was lost to a knee injury in fall camp. Proven depth was thin, and the big junior looked to be on the verge of finally being healthy, and making some serious noise once the season started. But after it was clear he wouldn’t be hitting the turf this year, the Cougars looked to Lance Broadus.
With DE Paul Stevens suspended (see notes), would Lance Broadus be able to handle the job now that Mullennix was also out? Could he be effective against the run at a considered-small for-the-position build of 6-2, 219 pounds?
With the regular season hitting the half-way point this Saturday in Corvallis, the answer to that question so far has been a resounding yes, with Broadus stepping up virtually every aspect of his game and contributing in some very big ways for the Cougar D.
A product of Taft High School in West Los Angeles, Broadus said following Tuesday’s practice that the biggest change he has felt over the course of the season is one of confidence. Before the Auburn game, the responsibilities of being a starter was on his mind.
“I feel a lot more confidence," said Broadus. "Now before the games, I am not as nervous, like I was before the Auburn game. And as the weeks have gone on; I just get more and more comfortable at the d-end spot.”
Broadus accounted for two Cougar sacks against USC last Saturday, joining senior Mkristo Bruce in downing the previously well protected John David Booty a total of three times in the contest.
Broadus has 3.5 total sacks for the Cougs on the year, second on the team only to Bruce’s NCAA leading 8. He has one interception and is in double digits in the tackle column with 11, 5 of them solo.
Possibly more telling than the numbers has been Broadus’ energy on the field. Watching Broadus on the practice field and on Saturday, that developed confidence is apparent.
Although the play of Broadus may be a pleasant surprise to some members of the Crimson Faithful, one person not surprised by his play is defensive coordinator Robb Akey, who, after Saturday’s nail-biting loss to USC praised the play of both Broadus and fellow DE Mike Graise, also stepping up for the Cougs backing up Broadus and Bruce.
“It’s what we expected them to do,” Akey said, referring to Broadus and Graise. “But at the same time I am very pleased that it’s happening, and we’re going to continue to push them to do better.”
Bruce, as many CF.C readers know, is often the most charismatic and cheerful, and at the same time intense and game-changing player on the field. Another quality he has is a propensity to speak up on the other members of his defensive unit, and he held nothing back in commending the play of Broadus.
“He’s a so-called ‘speedy’ guy,” Bruce said. “But he comes in here, 220 pounds, and plays like he’s 250. I give him a lot of respect. “He gets out there and plays with the big guys, he’s just fun to watch, so I am always excited to see him on the field."
Asked if his play had exceeded his own expectations, Broadus replied that the amount of playing time he has seen has been the biggest surprise.
“I didn’t think I would get to play as much from the get-go,” he said, referencing a significant groin injury that displaced and disrupted his practice schedule. “With the groin injury, I didn’t think I was going to feel it as soon as I did, so that kind of caught me off guard.”
Caught unawares or not, something is clicking for the junior, and with the half-way mark of the regular season quickly approaching, it also appears the only way for the D-end to go, is up.
Jason Hill has been excused from practice to fly home to be with his ailing mother in San Francisco.
The Cougs welcomed back to practice a number of key linemen Tuesday, as senior center Josh Duin (MCL sprain), junior offensive left tackle Bobby Byrd (MCL sprain), and true freshman o-lineman Grady Maxwell (right knee surgery) all returned to practice for the offense.
Also practicing without any apparent restrictions was defensive tackle Aaron Johnson, who is battling a a bulging disk in his back.
Stevens and Odell Howard were suspended before the season for a violation of team rules. There has been no official change in their status from Washington State.
J.V. Holland contributed to this report.
Lance Broadus accounted for two Cougar sacks against USC. The defensive end has 3.5 sacks on the season, and has two pass breakups and an interception.