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Big 12 rumors demand more focus from defense

Junior linebacker Steven Taylor is the Cougars' leading returning tackler with 76 last year. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Senior linebacker Steven Taylor led the team with 10 sacks last season — a mark many believe he can improve upon in 2016. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

For more than a year now, UH transitioning to the Big 12 has been the talk among fans. That could serve as a distraction for the Cougars against the University of Oklahoma Sooners.

This is especially true for defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, whose defense finished eighth overall in the NCAA against the run last season. As with head coach Tom Herman, Orlando’s staff and the players under his watch believed that the situation will work itself out.

“Honestly, that is the furthest thing from our kid’s minds right now,” Orlando said. “That hasn’t been an issue, even when it came out. Coach Herman has done a good job of saying we don’t control any of that stuff. We just do our job and get prepared to play a great team.”

The group spent training camp coming together as a cohesive unit and identifying leaders.

“That’s what camp is for,” Orlando said. “(It’s) to find out what your identity is as a defense, so a lot of the guys that maybe last year had small roles on special teams or small roles in packages all of a sudden become the voice of your team.”

The second-year defensive coordinator’s ideologies have bled into the thoughts of his players.

Leaders on the team, such as senior linebacker Steven Taylor, have accepted their coach’s philosophy and are utilizing it themselves. In 2016, he will look to replicate his success from the previous season, that saw him lead the team in sacks with 10.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys who are hungry,” Taylor said. “We want to come out and hit everything that’s moving.”

Orlando is working to prepare his team for an opponent that has an abundance of talent on their roster. The defense has found some similarities in OU’s offensive schemes compared to other schools the Cougars have played.

Despite the resemblances, Orlando said that OU is going to be one of the fastest and most talented teams that his defense has lined up against. In order to stop the high-powered offense, Orlando recognizes the team will have to make smart adjustments to get the upper hand.

Orlando’s message is clear: The defense must adapt to OU’s speed if they expect to compete.

The Cougars’ defense believes that they will be ready come kickoff to face the monster nicknamed “Boomer Sooner.” The confidence that UH possesses comes from both last season’s success and an important component within the defense’s culture.

“Love,” Taylor said. “A genuine love for each other.”

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