The Cougars’ defense was torched last week as they allowed almost 150 percent of their season total in rushing yards to just the United States Naval Academy.
The Cougars went from the No. 1-rated rush defense, which allowed 42 yards per game, to No. 4 after the Navy game. The team is now allowing 88 yards per game.
The team will, however, get some much-needed depth and leadership with the return of senior linebacker Steven Taylor and senior cornerback Brandon Wilson.
The Cougars will face another high-octane rushing offense in the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane and need the help the two veterans can provide in the second level of the defense. Tulsa is 25th in rushing offense and average 230.4 yards per game.
Taylor, who was forced to serve a one-game suspension for violating team policy, has dropped to fourth on the team in tackles after leading the team yet still leads the team in sacks with 5.5. He is an elite playmaker who can play against the run and in coverage opposite tight ends and slower running backs.
Taylor’s ability to chase down a runner and make an open-field tackle is vital for a team that was decimated by their inability to get to the ball on the outside and bring down their opponent.
The Cougars receive another boost on defense from Wilson, who has sat out almost four games due to a high ankle sprain.
Wilson has been known to play on both sides of the ball, including special teams, but will likely be asked only to play the nickel back position since freshman D’Eriq King has emerged as an explosive punt and kick returner.
Wilson is unlikely to be asked to line up in the offensive backfield even if redshirt sophomore running back Duke Catalon cannot suit up due to a concussion. Junior Dillon Birden and freshman Mulbah Car have carried the load for the Cougars since Catalon’s injury.
On defense, Wilson still has 14 tackles in his limited action this year. His speed and size should strengthen the areas of the field where the Cougars were exposed against Navy.
Wilson’s return gives the Cougars more flexibility with their defensive schemes and allows sophomore Garrett Davis to move back into a starting safety position after he filled in at the nickel.
The Cougars should be able to right the ship versus the Golden Hurricane with the return of two of their most game-experienced defensive players.