Cougars to watch against Arizona
The Cougars are starting this season against the Arizona Wildcats after Hurricane Harvey caused the cancellation of their planned season opener against UTSA.
After training camp and weeks of preparation, head coach Major Applewhite will make his debut against a team that won their first game 62-24, albeit against Northern Arizona.
The Cougars’ schedule may be lacking in ranked teams, but there are plenty of opponents that will give the team a formidable challenge. Despite a new man under center, the following players will likely help the Cougars shine.
Wide receiver Linell Bonner
Breakout senior wide receiver Linell Bonner will be a player to watch against Arizona. The Houston native is primed for yet another thousand-yard season after posting 1,118 in 2016.
As the Cougars’ clear number one wide receiver, he will look to make his mark in the touchdown department after registering only three last season, and Arizona’s small defensive backs are perfect to start his year.
“They are a good team and I respect them,” Bonner said. “Its finally time. We are tired of playing each other and ready to get those helmets on and get physical.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound brick house will pose a huge threat to Arizona’s starting secondary that features star safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and plenty of experience in senior cornerback Dane Cruikshank.
Despite their experience, I expect a huge game out of Bonner who is in his last year of eligibility.
Running back Duke Catalon
After appearing in just nine games last year due to injury, I think this will be Catalon’s breakout season. Although health is a concern for the second year running back, he still has the vision that led last year’s team in rushing .
Giving him the ball early and often will help the team wear down the Wildcats’ defensive line and force them to stack the box.
Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson believes Catalon is ready and will have something to prove out on the field.
“Duke is a very versatile player and is much improved from last year,” Johnson said. “We just need to give him the right opportunities to succeed as a coaching staff.”
The junior running back has the potential to shine in the Cougars’ first game against Arizona and will look to dominate in an offense that hasn’t yet found its identity with Applewhite and Johnson. I expect him to get at least two rushing touchdowns against the Wildcats.
Defensive end Nick Thurman
Senior Nick Thurman is yet another player that has shown some flashes in his previous plays with the Cougars, but has yet to really shine on the field.
In 2016, he saw action in all 12 games while making six starts. This year, he seems ready to make the leap and show he can be a true bookend for the defensive line alongside All-American defensive lineman Ed Oliver.
Arizona’s offense rushed for over 500 yards in their season debut against Northern Arizona, but I don’t expect a repeat performance against the Cougars’ stacked defensive line. Although people expect the momentum to come from Oliver, Thurman is more than capable of stopping the rush and helping the line set the standard for the rest of the defense.
“Everyone has their role and Ed is the true star and gets all the attention from offenses,” said Thurman. “It’s a double edged sword for him and he makes my job way easier.”
Thurman looks to make the most out of his last season with the Cougars and will build on his 60 career tackles beginning with Arizona.
Linebacker Matthew Adams
Of everyone on the Cougars’ defense, Matthew Adams has the ability to not just lead the team in tackles against Arizona, but also to lead the remainder of the line to play their best against the Wildcats.
The senior linebacker from Missouri City is set to make the most of his senior year and potentially ride that success to the NFL draft. The only way he can do that is if he can put out his best in every game, including Arizona.
Although Arizona has the capability to throw the ball, the real test for Adams will be stopping the run. If he can do that, then I don’t doubt that the Cougars will dominate the Wildcats on defense and make it much easier for the new look offense to get settled in.