Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Stars Stealing the Spotlight

Kyle KensingContributor ISeptember 16, 2013

Aug 29, 2013; Honolulu, HI, USA; Southern California Trojans safety Su'a Cravens (21) celebrates after an interception in the first quarter against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

About the time safety Su'a Cravens intercepted Hawaii quarterback Taylor Graham in USC's Week 1 win, it was readily apparent that the 2013 recruit is every bit as good as the 5-star praise he earned coming out of Vista Murrieta (Calif.). 

He contributed to a second pick against Hawaii as well, showing off a bone-rattling hit that separated wide receiver Marcus Kemp from the ball, thus springing Josh Shaw for the interception and touchdown. 

Cravens is playing with the same confidence and ability on a Pac-12 Conference field as he did in the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section. He's already recorded 13 tackles, third most on the Trojan defense, deflected a pass and forced a fumble to go with his season-opening interception. 

Three games into his career, Cravens is laying the foundation for joining the annals of great safeties to come through Heritage Hall. And he's just one of a stellar 2013 class of defenders immediately flourishing upon their arrival in the college game. 

Fellow ballyhooed USC recruit Quinton Powell is living up to his own billing, getting into the backfield twice for a tackle for loss and sack in Saturday's USC win over Boston College.   

Across Los Angeles, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack made his name known to both the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the nation.

The baby Bruin on an outstanding linebacker corps acquitted himself nicely with five tackles Saturday, but the play most indicative of Jack's special athleticism was a pass deflection on which he jumped over top of his blocker to bat down Taylor Martinez's attempt. 

It's small wonder that with such playmaking versatility, Jim Mora and the Bruin coaching staff toyed with the idea of using Jack on offense prior to the season, as Chris Foster of The Los Angeles Times detailed.

He's proved his defensively value, though, pursuing the ball with tenacity but also providing coverage against the pass in a manner similar to his veteran cohort, All-American Anthony Barr.

In fact, Barr is one of only three Bruins with more tackles on the year than Jack. The other two are Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt, the other veterans in the linebacker corps playing alongside Jack.  

Jack's 2013 UCLA freshman comrade Eddie Vanderdoes has made his own early splash with nine tackles and two for loss. 

An Arizona defense that desperately needed support after giving up over 35 points per game last season gained reinforcements in linebacker Scooby Wright and cornerback Devin Holiday. 

Wright in particular has carved a niche in a Wildcat linebacker unit that was woefully thin in 2012. His energetic style of play has resulted in 19 tackles, including three for loss. Both are tied for team highs. 

"Scooby, we thought that when we recruited him...he had a chance to make an impact," Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said during his Week 3 teleconference call. "He's been everything we hoped and then some. He understands the game as the son of a coach and being around the game his whole life." 

Rodriguez noted that Wright "is only a freshman" and thus has room to learn. It's true of any of the impressive, albeit young first-year players making their names around the league, which makes their immediate contributions all the more impressive.  

These first-year phenoms are the conference's future, and with them the coming years are bright for Pac-12 defenses. But they're also the present.  

In earning their coaches' trust from the outset, members of this stellar freshman class are in position to help their teams in the conference race now. Consider it baptism by fire. So far, they're standing up to the heat. 


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.