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Making opposing offenses one-dimensional remains UH focus defensively against UCF

Senior linebacker Grant Stuard hits BYU quarterback Zach Wilson as he releases the ball | Courtesy of UH athletics

Senior linebacker Grant Stuard hits BYU quarterback Zach Wilson as he releases the ball. | Courtesy of UH athletics

The Houston defense has made it their mission to make opposing offenses one-dimensional by taking away the run and forcing their opponents to put the ball in the air.

They have been successful so far in shutting down the ground game, as UH has the No. 1 rush defense in the American Athletic Conference and ranks 18 in run defense nationally.

“Believe it or not, we actually like when teams pass it,” senior defensive lineman Payton Turner said. “We try to make them one-dimensional so that we can get after the passer.”

Senior linebacker Grant Stuard echoed what Turner said, emphasizing how much faith the defensive guys up front have in their secondary.

“We know (that) if we can eliminate the run, it’s going to make them do one thing, which is pass the ball and we really believe in our pass rushers,” Stuard said.

“We believe in our defensive backs. So that’s really just our mindset is making them one-dimensional so that we know what to expect as soon as they snap the ball,” Stuard continued.

But the Houston defense will face a whole other animal Saturday afternoon against a UCF offense, who leads the country in total offense averaging 646.8 yards per game.

The Knights offense is led by sophomore quarterback Dillion Gabriel, who both leads the nation in passing yards with 2178 and passing touchdowns with 19.

Not only does Gabriel throw for a lot of yards and touchdowns, but he also rarely makes any mistakes, having only thrown two interceptions through UCF’s first five games in 2020.

“Their quarterback just keeps getting better,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said in a news conference with the media. “Gabriel’s had a lot of snaps as a true freshman and (this year) he’s a year better.”

The Knights also have the top rated receiving duo made up of senior Marlon Williams and sophomore Jaylon Robinson in the FBS.

Williams leads the country in receiving yards with 753 while Robinson ranks fifth with 602 yards. The duo has also combined to catch 10 touchdowns on the season.

Along with all the offensive weapons the Knights have, their tempo also poses many threats to opposing defenses. UCF’s offense moves at a lightning-fast tempo as they lead the country in plays per game averaging 93.4 offensive snaps each game.

“They are going to go lightning fast,” Holgorsen said. “It’s abnormal what they do from a lightning-speed tempo standpoint. Everybody runs tempo but not like they do. They go extra fast.”

Despite UCF’s┬áblitzkrieg air raid offense that has torched their opponents all season, the Cougars still have the same strategy of focusing on shutting down the run game and making the Knights offense solely rely on their passing game.

“Most definitely,” senior cornerback Damarion Williams said when asked if the defense would stick with their strategy of making opponents pass the ball against UCF.

“In the back end we’re ready to accept that challenge, and the d-line and linebackers are going to continue to do their job and stop the run. We all know UCF throws the ball a lot, so it’s going to be a good challenge for us this week.”

Even though the Cougars continue to focus on neutralizing UCF’s rushing attack and are confident in their secondary, they know they will give up their fair share of yards due to how many plays the Knights run per game and how often they put the ball in the air.

So the key to limiting the effectiveness of UCF’s passing game for the Cougars is limiting the big plays, which is something the UH coaching staff has been emphasizing this week during practices.

“We definitely talked this week about eliminating all the big plays,” Williams said. “So we’re going to do our best to contain them. If we limit the big plays and keep them under control then we should definitely win the game.”

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