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The UH defense’s ‘next man up mentality’

Junior defensive lineman Derek Parish had a huge game against USF, recording five tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and scooping up a fumble and returning it 85 yards for a touchdown |Joe Buvid/UH Athletics.

Junior defensive lineman Derek Parish had a huge game for the UH defense against USF as he recorded five tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and scooping up a fumble and taking it 85 yards for a touchdown. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Senior defensive lineman David Anenih joked that his teammate Derek Parish owes him lunch after the Cougars 56-21 win over USF Saturday afternoon at TDECU Stadium.

Midway through the third quarter, Anenih got to USF’s quarterback Katravis Marsh for a strip-sack that made the ball fly out of his hands and right into junior defensive lineman Parish’s hands, which he returned 85 yards for a touchdown.

“I already told (Parish),” Anenih said postgame. “He owes me lunch.”

With the UH defense missing several key starters, including senior defensive lineman Payton Turner, junior linebacker Donavan Mutin and senior strongside linebacker JoVanni Stewart, due to injuries and COVID-19 related issues according to head coach Dana Holgorsen, Parish and Anenih were two of the more experienced guys who stepped up against the Bulls.

The duo combined for seven tackles, including three sacks, and was responsible for forcing a fumble and taking it back for a touchdown.

Along with having some more of the experienced upperclassmen play bigger roles due to all the defensive injuries, Houston also had to rely on some younger guys, many of whom had never played or had very little playing time in college before the USF matchup.

And the young and inexperienced players delivered Saturday afternoon thanks to the Cougars’ next man up mentality.

“We elevated our game and played better on defense,” Holgorsen said after the game. “I really want to commend our guys for just next guy up. It’s 2020 … Guys need to step up and play.”

Parish echoed his coach’s comments, talking about how the coaching staff constantly emphasized how every single player on the team has to be ready because they never know when their number will get called.

“That was the emphasis all week. Next man up,” Parish said. “You got to be ready. That’s what makes me proud of all my boys because you got guys in front of down and they stepped up and they played hard.”

One of the young players rose to the occasion and took advantage of all the Cougars’ injuries was redshirt freshman linebacker Mannie Nunnery, who made his first career start Saturday and finished the game with eight tackles.

“You know a guy like Mannie Nunnery started for the first time in his career and had eight tackles,” Holgorsen said. “I thought he played great.”

But Holgorsen was not the only one who Nunnery impressed, as the 6-foot 2-inch linebacker also received praise from some of his teammates.

“I was really proud of Mannie,” Anenih said.“ I was really proud to see him get out there and make some plays and do his things.”

Nunnery is just one of the many players on the UH defense, who made an impact for Houston against USF despite having little to no experience of actual game time coming into the contest and exemplifies why Houston believes in every one of its defensive players.

“Everybody on our defense can play,” Anenih said. “The one’s, the two’s and some three’s as well. So we take a lot of pride in that on defense. About how many different people that we have who can play who can step up.”

While it is currently unclear how much longer the Houston defense will be without guys like Turner and Mutin or how many more guys go down in the future, Parish is confident that whoever is on the field for the Cougars will get the job done.

“I think we wanted to come out this week showing the defense we really are, truly are, regardless if some guys are out,” Parish said. “That doesn’t matter. We have who we have and that’s all we need.”

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