Secondary using mix of experience, youth to find success
The Cougars’ secondary has been one of the best position groups on the team in recent years, but through the first part of 2015, they have had their share of struggles.
The past two seasons, this unit has earned a name for itself in the take-away department, recording 29 in 2013 and 19 in 2014.
Over that same time, they also allowed an average of 234 yards per game to opposing offenses.
Through the first three contests this season, this same unit has averaged 313 yards per game (312, 325 and 302 passing yards allowed) and ranks near the bottom of the NCAA in passing defense, coming in at 120 out of 127 teams.
The rust of the Cougars’ secondary started to shake off through the three wins to open the season, however, as the group combined to grab five interceptions and force three fumbles, warming up the veteran group for the coming conference games.
With every starter from 2014 back this year to combine for 97 starts, the secondary has plenty of experience, particularly at the safety spot, led by seniors Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald.
Having guys who have been in tough situations before will be key for the secondary moving forward this season, especially with several younger players earning more playing time.
Passing the knowledge that he has learned during his time at UH is something that McDonald has come to embrace now that he is a senior player.
“I was one of those young guys at one point,” McDonald said. “I try to encourage them, telling them it’s not always going to be pretty, but you just have to do the right thing.”
One of the benefits of having a veteran secondary group with seven seniors is that it lets the coaching staff to bring along the younger guys at a slower pace.
“It allows us to red-shirt some young guys and get them bigger, faster, stronger and ready to compete,” Naivar said. “If you’re red-shirting, you’re going against the ones every day, every rep and that is a great learning tool for those guys.”
Cornerbacks sophomore Howard Wilson and junior Brandon Wilson are two of the emerging player starting to shine under the tutelage of the older guys like McDonald, who was referred to as a “coach on the field” by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
“Anytime you’re young at the corner position, it takes a little bit of time,” Orlando said. “Brandon has to continue to improve on his practice habits and Howard is getting more consistent, so I look for him to play a little more than he has in the last few games.”
While the next generation of the Cougar secondary is being groomed, the current group still has a good chunk of the 2015 season in front of them to prove that the stumbles of the first part of the year are behind them.
“I don’t have any concerns about that group at all to be honest,” Orlando said. “It’s was couple of passes that got us, but to me, they are doing what they are supposed to do and we are a 3-0 ball club.”