Cougars look to address defensive issues

Thomas Bates

Last season, senior cornerback Thomas Bates became a starter after D.J. Hayden’s life-threatening heart injury. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

Although the Cougars looked impressive in their win Friday night, they left Reliant Stadium with some questions that needed to be addressed.

The Cougars’ running game rushed for a total of 372 yards; quarterbacks David Piland, a junior, and John O’Korn, a freshman, threw for a combined four touchdowns with no turnovers; and the defense allowed only 13 points while forcing four turnovers in the process, but the pass defense was a facet of the game that didn’t get overlooked.

While Southern was overmatched, they found consistency in the passing game that kept them within striking distance of the Cougars before the game got out of reach. Southern senior quarterback Dray Joseph went 27-36 for 268 yards with two touchdowns and was able to find his receivers down the field for big gains.

Early in the first quarter, Southern executed a flea flicker pass that went 45 yards down the field. Senior cornerback Zachary McMillian had good coverage, but the Southern receiver was able to get into a better position and snag the ball out of the air.

“We played an opponent that threw the ball quite a lot and, unfortunately for us, completed quite a bit of passes,” said head coach Tony Levine. “I give Southern credit. They were doing a nice job of spreading us out.”

Early in the third quarter, Southern was able to convert a third down pass that went for 30 yards with coverage from McMillian. The Southern receiver was able to get McMillian behind him on a corner route toward the left sideline.

On the same drive, Southern was able to again convert another long pass play, but this time, it went for a touchdown from 38 yards out. The Southern receiver had senior cornerback Thomas Bates beat and was able to make the easy catch down the left sideline.

The Cougars were able to get away with a lower-echelon team Friday, but they will now have to face tougher opposition Saturday at Temple, their first AAC opponent.

“We’re facing a team in Temple that’s going to throw the ball all over the field as well. We’ve got to shore up our pass defense and that’s going to be critical in Saturday’s game,” Levine said.

Temple quarterback Connor Reilly is a player who led his team in rushing and passed for 228 yards last weekend against No.14-ranked Notre Dame.

Levine said Temple is an up-tempo team that utilizes their tight end much more than the Cougars — more than no-huddle teams usually utilize.

It’s unlikely the Cougars will have a similar offensive explosion like they had against Southern, as Temple’s defense will present a tougher front to succeed against.

“This game is one where you look at how physical they are and the size of their lines on both sides of the ball. I’ve talked about it before games, among other things in the trenches there — this will be one of them.”

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