Defense attributes success to change in philosophy, coaching
The Cougars are 6-0 on the season and look to continue their strong play from both sides of the ball.
With new coordinators on offense and defense, Houston is far from being the team they were last season.
Obvious strides have been made on offense, which reflect on the scoreboard, but the defensive improvements are sometimes overlooked because the high flying offense gets the credit.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has brought a new scheme and a new mindset to the Cougars defense that has improved their game drastically.
Deceptive coverages and aggressive blitzing have powered the defense, keeping the Cougars in winning situations.
Though Orlando’s aggressive style has stifled the run game extremely well, it has allowed teams to accumulate yardage in the air.
This is different from former coach David Gibbs’ conservative defense, which allowed 143.3 rushing yards per game and 200.1 passing yards per game.
Orlando’s defense only allowed 98.5 yards per game on the ground, but it gave way to an average of 277.2 passing yards.
And players seem to buy into Orlando’s scheme.
“Last year, we didn’t want to give up the deep ball,” junior linebacker Steven Taylor said. “We were more laid back (then). This year we’re aggressive, we’re going to come with a blitz and try to attack and beat the quarterback up.”
Consistency is an area that the defense wants to try to keep steady.
So far the pressure from the front seven has been a big force in keeping the consistency up.
They have been highlighted throughout the run, as the Cougars are ranked 11th in rushing defense.
“We work really hard at (run defense),” junior defensive tackle B.J. Singleton said. “We take a certain period in practice to work on stopping the run. It’s about your get-off, how low you play with leverage, how much you put into it and these are the results that we get.”
Houston’s consistency-based mindset has shown throughout the season in overlooked statistics.
So far, opponents are only converting 38 percent of their third down opportunities. At the same time, the defense has also forced 10 fumbles.
The pass defense seems to be the biggest weakness of the Cougar defense.
They do a good job of keeping the passes underneath the secondary, but even those yards add up.
Combined with the few big pass plays over the top of the secondary, their numbers look worse than they actually are.
“We’ve played some pretty good passing teams,” senior cornerback Lee Hightower said.
“A lot of times it’s one or two mistakes here and there and then it turns into a shutdown game for the defense. I don’t think that our pass defense is inconsistent or anything, it’s just one or two big pass plays is 200 yards passing.”
The pass defense still puts good pressure on the quarterback, racking up 20 sacks, which is tied for ninth in the NCAA.
This is a large improvement, as they are on their way to beat last year’s mark of 27 sacks.
The quarterback pressure has also led to six interceptions, one resulting in a return for a touchdown.
Singleton and Hightower both agree that the biggest thing they want to improve over the next few games is red zone defense.
The red zone is a large struggle for the Cougars, as they have allowed 17 scores in 19 red zone attempts, of which15 were then touchdowns.
Even the strong run defense has struggled in stopping the run when behind their own 20 yard line.
The 89 percent conversion rate is extremely high and the defense is working to fix the issues.
“We have to hold (teams) to field goal attempts (in the redzone), then we have to block field goals,” Hightower said.
Though some stats show their struggles with the red zone and the passing game, the score board shows that the defense is getting the job done.
With an average margin of victory of 24.4 points, the defense is handling their responsibility and are definitely a major reason as to why Houston are 6-0.