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Cougars defense looks to improve after OU loss

Ed Oliver, a former defensive tackle for the Cougars, missed a big chunk of 2018, leaving Houston's defense undermanned. | File photo

Ed Oliver, a former defensive tackle for the Cougars, missed a big chunk of 2018, leaving Houston’s defense undermanned. | File photo

Last year’s defensive woes for the Cougars were well documented.

It ranked near the bottom of all teams nationally and allowed Army to score 70 points in an embarrassing bowl game loss.

While last year’s unit dealt with many injuries and the early end to Ed Oliver’s season, improvement on the defensive end will be a priority for the Cougars moving forward.

With the opener against Oklahoma already in the books, Houston proved that while there is still much work to be done, there is potential for the defense to perform much better this season.

The defense will have to find a way to stay healthy. Injuries played a large part in hindering UH’s season. Ed Oliver, a top-10 pick in the most recent NFL draft, missed the majority of 2018 to injury.  Junior defensive lineman Isaiah Chambers went down as well, leaving the Cougars defense undermanned.

There are physical things the Cougars can improve on from last season besides the health of the squad.

UH in 2018 allowed teams to run for over 300 yards four times throughout the season, and allowed Temple and Army to score eight rushing touchdowns each in their respective games against Houston. Against Oklahoma, the Cougars once again allowed more than 300 yards rushing.

To be fair, the defense was matched up against one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation in senior Jalen Hurts, who had three rushing touchdowns on the day. Hurts brought the pain by land and by air, and the Cougars’ defense was unable to stop him from taking it apart.

Hurts was also successful partly because of another deficiency that lingered over from last season: the inability to stop big plays. Last year’s defense had a problem stopping huge plays in the passing game and the running game.

This year’s team showed some of the same problems against Oklahoma. Three of OU’s touchdowns came from plays that gained more than 20 yards, and two of the scores were for over 40 yards. Especially against a great offense, the ability to take away big plays forces the other team to work harder for scores.

A silver lining for the Cougars’ defense is found in the turnover battle. Not only did UH not turn the ball over, but it also forced OU to cough up the ball twice. The 2018-19 Cougars also forced their fair share of turnovers. UH ended the season with 14 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles.

Then-junior D’Eriq King also threw only six interceptions on the season until he missed the rest of the year with an injury. If the Cougars can continue the good production in the turnover battle, the defense may give the team enough of a huge boost and increase its chances at winning games.

While there is a slight cause for concern that trends from last season will leak into this season, it is too early to make a definitive call on the defense. OU is the best team on several team’s schedules, and Hurts is one of the best players in the country. UH would have needed a perfect performance to get the win.

The Cougars’ season rides on how well the defense can adjust and improve. This season, the team will be trying for a full 180 degree turn from their defensive performance last year. Luckily, the Cougars have plenty of time to see if the defense can reach its expectations.

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