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Monday, November 19, 2018

Football

Cougars’ secondary ready to roar into next season


Sophomore safety Deontay Anderson joins Houston from Ole Miss, where he started as a true freshman before sitting out his sophomore year with a redshirt. Peter Scamardo | The Cougar

 

Houston’s pass defense has been one of its biggest weaknesses over the last decade, but things are poised to change.

After having a top 50 pass defense just twice in the last 14 seasons, the current secondary is loaded with talent that should improve it tremendously.

Nick Watkins comes to the Cougars as a graduate transfer after being a starter at Notre Dame, while  number one safety of 2016, sophomore Deontay Anderson, transferred from Ole Miss.

Applewhite expects to see results from everyone in the secondary, transfers and returning players alike.

“Whether it’s a fifth-year guy or a freshman, we expect people that are coming into this program to contribute,” said Applewhite.

Last season, the Cougars were No. 36 in the nation in run defense but were No. 119 in passing yards allowed per game out of the 130 FBS teams.

Undaunted by last year’s struggles, senior defensive back Garrett Davis said he was confident in himself and his teammates.

“We’ve worked hard over the summer, and the sky is the limit for us,” said Davis. “I’m confident that the work that we put in and the work that we will put in during training camp will be more than enough for us to excel as a group.”

The nature of football dictates that a great defense cannot just have an elite defensive line or an elite secondary. The linemen and the defensive backs must feed off each other.

The Cougars’ secondary has a major advantage to help with that — game-changing defensive tackle, junior Ed Oliver.

A consistently strong pass rush can force a quarterback to throw under pressure, and that leads to more interceptions for the secondary and linebackers.

A lock down secondary can cause an opposing quarterback to hold onto the ball longer than he would like, allowing the pass rushers to get home for a sack or forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away.

“We can always provide a better pass rush,” Oliver said. “But we know that we have a lot of guys that are going to step up in the secondary, so we’re going to have a great year.”

It would be hard to be worse than last season, and the Cougars’ secondary will have something it sorely missed — depth.

With the new recruits, transfers and returning players, the Cougars can stay fresher than before and have more time to breathe.

The heightened competition also means more pressure for players to perform at their best.

“[The players] know now that with the depth that we have, if they slip up, they’re probably not going to play. We were probably in a situation at times last season that we didn’t have that,” said defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.

The increased depth gives Houston its best shot at having a top 50 pass defense for the first time since 2014, and senior defensive back Isaiah Johnson thinks it is only a matter of time.

“With the added depth and the time we’ve spent together this whole year, our secondary can be top-notch,” Johnson said. “That’s how good we want to be, and that’s how good our rotation is going to be.”

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