PULLMAN – A breakout star for Washington State’s impressive defense, Daiyan Henley is drawing national recognition early this season.
The senior transfer linebacker received more plaudits Tuesday when the Maxwell Football club named Henley the winner of its Bednarik Award Defensive Player of the Week.
Henley, a watch list player for the Bednarik Award – presented at the end of the season to the top defender in the nation – stood out Saturday in the Cougars’ 38-7 nonconference home win over Colorado State, totaling 13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Henley earned Pac-12 Defender of the Week and Reese’s Senior Bowl National Defender of the Week honors Monday.
“The world is taking notice of the hard work I’ve been putting in over these past few months and the lessons I’ve been learning from my coaches,” Henley said Tuesday after practice at Rogers Field.
“All the awards, I love that they’re coming and I’d love to have more. I want to be the guy that racks ’em up. But it’s a weekly award. Last week is over and I’m on to the next week. I’m trying to be better, trying to elevate.”
Henley is setting the pace for a Cougars defense that ranks second in the nation in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (31). The unit also sits at 19th in the national standings in scoring defense (12.7 points per game) and 28th in rushing defense (90.7 yards per game).
“We’re confident, but we’re hungry right now,” Henley said of the defense.
Henley is the top-graded linebacker in the FBS, the No. 2-graded defender in the country and the most effective defensive player in the Pac-12, according to Pro Football Focus’ performance metrics.
He leads the conference in TFLs (7.5) and sacks (four), and is fourth in the Pac-12 with 30 tackles.
Henley, also the No. 2 coverage LB in the nation, per PFF, tallied a game-sealing interception against Idaho in Week 1. He spearheaded a strong effort from WSU’s defensive front in an upset win at Wisconsin and its formidable rushing attack, then shined again last weekend.
After leading Nevada in tackling and earning an All-Mountain West second-team nod last season, Henley followed defensive coordinator Brian Ward to Pullman and has emerged as a professional prospect and perhaps the most talented player on WSU’s stout defense. Henley credits his coaches and teammates for his high level of play.
“Without them, I don’t even know if people would have taken notice,” said Henley, who began his collegiate career in 2017 as a wide receiver/return man before flipping to defense in 2019. “I appreciate my coaches because they’re putting me in positions to make plays that I didn’t make last year. They’re pushing me to strive, to be better than what I was and to keep growing.
“All the talent around me, it’s easy to be a player. I hope I’m making it easier for (teammates) to do their jobs, because they’re making it easier for me to do my job.”
Henley is no doubt at the top of the scouting report for the 15th-ranked Oregon Ducks (2-1), who will visit the Cougars (3-0) this weekend for a much-anticipated Pac-12 opener. WSU, just outside the AP Top 25 rankings, kicks off against Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gesa Field. The game will be broadcast on Fox.
“Athletic ability, motor, versatility – I think you see all of that,” Ducks coach Dan Lanning said Monday of Henley. “They use him in a lot of unique ways.”
Henley didn’t record a sack during his Nevada career, but he’s been stellar on blitzes through three games of his first and only Cougars season.
He charges through gaps at the line and presents matchup problems in one-on-one situations – offensive linemen and tight ends aren’t agile enough to block him, and running backs aren’t strong enough.
WSU will need Henley to supply pressure against a Ducks offensive line that hasn’t surrendered a sack this season.
“In order to put me in positions, (coaches) challenged me,” Henley said when asked about his blitzing abilities. “It was like, ‘You have to be better than what you were. You have to show that you have different dimensions to your game. We challenge you to go out there and become more physical and dominate.’ So, they have given me plays where they give you one-on-ones. For me, a one-on-one is a challenge. … I just appreciate those opportunities. It’s like a reward to go out there and have that one-on-one and try to win.”
WSU expects selloutOnly about 500 tickets remain available for the Cougars’ matchup with Oregon, according to a school spokesman. Gesa Field, which seats about 33,000 at max capacity, hosted just over 25,000 spectators for the Cougars’ season opener against the Vandals and entertained about 23,000 fans last weekend.
WSU coach Jake Dickert commended his team’s supporters for making an impact on CSU’s offense on Saturday.
He said the student section caused back-to-back mishaps for the Rams when they entered the red zone during a second-quarter possession. CSU committed a false start and had its drive stalled by a low snap.
“I’m excited for them to come out and be positive and have a difference in this football game,” Dickert said. “I know this: It’s going to be a raucous environment. It’s going to be a packed house.”
A kickoff time was announced recently for WSU’s homecoming game next weekend against Cal. The Cougars meet the Bears at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 (Pac-12 Network).
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