Cougars defense ready to rumble
Whether it’s on the ground — as in the case of former head coach Bill Yeoman’s veer option — or through the air, UH’s offense has developed a countrywide reputation for its record setting numbers.
In fact, a quick look through the NCAA’s offensive record book reveals a trio of Cougar quarterbacks atop three separate lists. From Andre Ware’s 510 yards in a half against SMU in 1989, to David Klinger’s 1990 season-passing performance of 474.6 yards per game, and Case Keenum’s 20,114 career yards lasting from 2007-11, UH has had no shortage of offense. So it may surprise fans that the defense could be the strength of the team in 2012.
“At least on paper, a majority of our experience returning from last season lies within the defense,” said head coach Tony Levine. “You have an idea how some guys are going to play when the lights are on and people are in the stands and you’re on television.”
Last season, while the offense led the country in per-game points (49.3) and passing yards (450.1), the defense quietly crept up the statistical rankings finishing third in the country with 21 interceptions and second in red zone defense. The Cougars have made it clear they are looking forward.
“I can’t wait for the new season to start because everyone keeps talking about what we did last year,” said linebacker Phillip Steward. “Now, we’re waiting on this weekend to show them what we’ve got for this year.”
To be fair, UH finished average in other categories defensively, including opponent rushing yards per game (171.57) in which they finished 80th. But, with yearly improvements, increased talent and depth, this could likely to be the unit’s best in recent memory.
The Cougars also changed their defensive scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in the spring, courtesy of new Defensive Coordinator Jamie Bryant, a transition the players appear to have adapted to easily.
“Going into two-a-days we picked it up like that first week and now we understand the full defense,” Steward said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of chances to win a lot of games this season.”
The coaching staff has also recognized the defense’s ability and is quick to praise the unit that has for a long time been the Cougar’s Achilles’ heel.
“When we’ve scrimmaged or we have gone seven-on-seven in practice, I’m not hearing coaches yell about guys lined up in the wrong spot or hitting the wrong guy or yelling about effort,” Levine said. “When the ball is snapped, the guys on defense know what to do and they are doing it at a high rate speed. I’ve been pleased with the last three-plus weeks of their work.”
When it comes to lining up against the offense, whether in practice or Saturday games, Steward says both are important in helping the team and the units are not competing against one another.
“The offense can’t do what the defense does and the defense can’t do what the offense does,” Steward said. “We just go out there and we just our play game so we can get the win.”
After facing off against their offensive teammates throughout the offseason, the defense will get its first crack at an offense not in red and white when UH faces Texas State at 7 p.m. this Saturday inside Robertson Stadium. It will also be another opportunity for a talented unit to shed its dreary past.
“We’ve got a lot of talent at every position,” Steward said. “The defense is going to be a big part of our team this year.”