In Frankie Luvu and Hercules Mata’afa, No. 21 WSU has found a winning pass rushing tandem

Frankie Luvu moved from will linebacker to rush linebacker this offseason, while Hercules Mata’afa has finally settled into his defensive tackle spot. Together, they’re causing havoc for opposing offenses.

Entering his senior season at Washington State this fall, Frankie Luvu had a measly 1.5 career sacks in 33 games played over three seasons.

That was due, in part, to his position. Luvu spent his first three years at will linebacker, backing up Jeremiah Allison in 2015, and splitting time with Isaac Dotson in 2016.

Dotson had just about locked up the WLB spot going into fall camp, but Luvu’s abilities were so enticing that WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch knew he had to find a way to get the 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker on the field.

“We’ve seen him one-on-one in practice,” Grinch said. “You saw a guy who had the speed, quickness and willingness to be physical. And you can’t just rely on speed off the edge, you have to have a Plan B so if you don’t beat (the blocker) off the line, you find another way to get to the quarterback. Frankie’s able to do that, and he’s able to drop into coverage at times.”

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It seemed the perfect skillset for rush linebacker, so that’s where the coaches moved Luvu going into fall camp.

Through two games, that position switch has proved already yielded dividends

As the 21st-ranked Cougars (2-0) welcome Oregon State (1-2) to Martin Stadium this Saturday, Luvu leads the defense with 2.5 sacks, and is coming off a breakout performance in WSU’s win over Boise State.

Against the Broncos, “Frankie Luvu probably had the best game that he’s had,” WSU coach Mike Leach said this week.

Luvu tallied five tackles and 2.5 sacks – including one that knocked Boise State’s starting quarterback, Brett Rypien, out of the game – and also recovered a fumble in the Cougars’ triple-overtime win.

For Grinch, it was satisfying to see Luvu finally play to his potential.

“It was the right move,” Grinch said. “If you have a guy who can affect the quarterback, we have to put him in position to do that and we’ll be a better defense for it.”

But Luvu’s emergence, along with the development of some other young pass rushers, has also brought out the best in defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa, who leads the defense with 5.5 tackles for loss, and has two sacks so far this season.

Luvu has been dynamic off…

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