Cougar defense looks to recover in Tulsa matchup
The football team will try to get their season back on track Saturday night in an American Athletic Conference matchup against the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane at TDECU Stadium.
Tulsa has a high-powered offense that has had no trouble scoring this season. The team’s 39.4 points per game ranks 25th best in the nation while 228.4 rushing yards per game put them at 27th.
The Cougars will have their hands full trying to stop a Tulsa offensive attack that is similar to their own. Tulsa uses a run-first spread offense that is difficult for even the most prepared defenses to stop.
“They split the field so wide with their wide receivers that it is difficult to commit,” said head coach Tom Herman. “Normally in defending spread-run games, your safeties are very involved in defending the run.”
A problem that arises when defending an offense like Tulsa’s is to decide if you are going to commit to stop the run or the pass. With receivers out wide to both sides, a defense risks being burned by a deep pass if they invest too many players to keep the run at bay.
Herman recognized the issue, but said the team must stay true to what has gotten them to this point.
“You have to stop the run first,” Herman said. “Everything we do revolves around stopping the run. Then, you adjust from there if they’re hurting you in the pass game. You commit in your game plan to stopping the run and go from there.”
It’s no secret that the Cougars could not stop the Navy Midshipmen’s rushing attack. Before giving up 306 yards on the ground to Navy last week, the Cougars had the top-ranked rush defense in the country.
Even with the blemish, the Cougars still rank fourth in the nation at stopping the run. Saturday’s game against Tulsa will show whether the team’s inability to stop the run last weekend was an anomaly or a sign of a wavering defense.
Junior linebacker D’Juan Hines led the team with 10 solo tackles against Navy and said that stopping Tulsa has to be a group effort on defense.
“Eleven guys flying to the ball,” Hines said. “If your brother needs your help, you’re going to make a way to the ball. That’s our biggest key to stopping the run.”
Although they have success on the ground, Tulsa is no stranger to the air game. Tulsa ranks 56th in the country is passing yards per game with 244.
Their passing attack is led by senior quarterback Dane Evans, who is in his third full season as the signal caller. In 2016, the experienced Evans has 1,135 yards through the air with nine touchdowns to seven interceptions.
“They are a very balanced offense,” said senior defensive end Cameron Malveaux. “They have a good quarterback and a nice run scheme, so it will be a challenge for our defense. I’m sure we will find a way.”
The Cougars kept Evans in check last season by allowing him 326 yards and no touchdowns.
Malveaux said that the team is making mental adjustments to prevent a repeat of last week’s result. Regardless of their approach to Tulsa, the defense will play with inspiration after being “hit in the mouth” by Navy.
“After the game, it hurt. With the work we put in we don’t expect to lose. We don’t want all the work we put in to go to waste, so we came back in with the mindset that we still have a job to do,” Malveaux said. “We have to win this next game.”