Despite changes, Cougars urge ‘we’re still the same defense’


Secondary leaders and fellow seniors William Jackson and Trevon Stewart look to keep the Cougars’ defense on top next season. | File Photo/The Cougar

Ever since Houston football rose up under big name coaches like Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, the Cougars have been known for their fast-paced offense that annually ranked among the nation’s leaders, producing college stars and record holders like quarterback Case Keenum.

Over the last two years, however, the Cougars have been known for their defense, ranking No. 15 in nation, higher than their offense. Although scheme and personnel were important, forming an identity and defensive mindset had an impact.

Now, Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs helped establish that identity, and new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando hopes to build upon it.

With Orlando at the helm, the Cougars hope to further their improvement as he implements his defense. Orlando spent his last two seasons at Utah State, where his defense ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense (17.1 points) in 2013 and 12th (19.7) in 2014. His aggressive play calling led them to the second-most tackles for loss (114) and fourth-most sacks (49).

Senior Trevon Stewart leads the secondary this season through the transitional phase between the two very different coaches.

“Coach Orlando and Coach Gibbs are both great coaches, you can’t take that away from them,” Stewart said. “The defense clicked with both of them, the difference is Coach Gibbs is a little more laid back, while Coach Orlando is a little more in your face screaming. They’re both great coaches, there’s just different ways they coach.”

It’s something that not only the players, but the fans thrive off of. It’s common to attend a game and hear the students chanting, “Third Ward D, Third Ward D.” The atmosphere in the stadium is intensifying. Stewart wants to continue that persona under the new leadership of Orlando.

“We’re still the same defense,” Stewart said. “Same players still on the defense. We’re all brothers, and you know what we did with the Third Ward D is we made turnovers, so we going to keep our gameplay the same way it was.”

With the loss of key parts to the defense including tackle Joey Mbu and linebacker Derrick Matthews, some may argue that there’s more pressure on the secondary. But senior corner back William Jackson thinks no such thing.

“We got a lot of good guys up front,” Jackson said. “The seniors gave them a lot of wisdom last year, and they’re working hard, so I think we’ll be all right.”

Stewart echoed Jackson’s comments, agreeing that the group isn’t fresh and can easily step in and get the job done.

“I don’t feel it’s more pressure on us. We got young guys up front, but we also got guys like Marcus Dillard who can make plays for us in the secondary,” Stewart said. “We aren’t rebuilding, we’re just reloading.”

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