Football Sports

UH defense believes play will surprise people in 2021

Junior defensive lineman Logan Hall lines up on the edge during UH football's fall camp. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Junior defensive lineman Logan Hall lines up on the edge during UH football’s fall camp. | Courtesy of UH athletics

A buzz has been going around Houston defense as the 2021 football season draws nearer, but the Cougars do not want to spoil the surprise of the quality of play they believe and expect to put on display under the bright lights this fall.

This confidence may come as a surprise to Cougar fans, as UH defense showed major holes, during the first two years under head coach Dana Holgorsen in regards to defending against the run and pass.

“One of our biggest downfalls was not having depth,” junior linebacker Donavan Mutin said. “You can’t go into seasons and make big runs if you don’t have depth.”

As a result, the expectations for the defense from UH fans are at an extreme low. Many are expecting to see the Cougars defense display more of the same problems from the past two seasons appear in 2021.

Despite doubt from the outside, the Cougars’ defense is confident they will not only catch people by surprise by elevating their play this season but show they are capable of being one of the top defenses in the country.

The high hopes the UH defense has in themselves stems from a new sense of urgency. As well as, the way the defense has attacked preparation for the upcoming season. Coming together after the New Mexico Bowl loss to Hawaii, they vowed a season like 2020 would not happen again.

“Our accountability has been better,” senior linebacker Deontay Anderson said. “Our mental (mindset) has been better of how we attack workouts. How we attack practice has been better. And that carried over into the summer.”

One of the units that have received lots of hype from coaches and players has been the defensive line because of the depth, feeling like there is no noticeable drop-off between the ones and the twos.

Defensive coordinator Doug Belk said the Cougars have a solid 10 to 12 man rotation that can shuffle in and out at the defensive line position. This gives them the advantage of being able to have fresh bodies throughout the course of the game.

“We really believe in strength in numbers and I don’t think anybody in the country plays the D-line the way we do,” Belk said.

Senior offensive lineman Dennis Bardwell has experienced firsthand the level of talent and depth the Cougars defensive line possesses, battling it out in the trenches each day in practice.

“In my opinion, they are going to be one of the best in the conference if not the country,” Bardwell said.

At linebacker, the Cougars have a mix of young blood and veteran leaders that Holgorsen believes will be the “heart and soul” of the team.

The linebacker unit has gotten a major boost in getting Mutin back after the 6-foot linebacker missed the final five games of the 2020 season with injury issues.

Along with Mutin being healthy, Anderson had a full offseason to continue to learn the linebacker position after shifting from safety in the middle of the 2020 season. Anderson said he is more comfortable at his new position and his teammates, as well as coaches, have high expectations for him in 2021.

Redshirt freshman Mannie Nunnery has garnered high praise, led by Mutin, for the leap he has taken over the offseason.

“Mannie Nunnery is a freak,” Mutin said. “He’s as elite as anyone I’ve ever seen athletically. Not football or any specific sport. He can do anything athletically and he can play ball at a really high level.”

In the secondary, the Cougars are loaded with experience led by the highly regarded cornerback duo, seniors Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams, as well as experienced leaders at safety in sophomore Hasaan Hypolite and junior Thabo Mwaniki.

As a whole, Belk says the defense has excelled at fall camp in the two things it takes the most pride in: playing fast and playing physical.

While there are still some things the defense has to work on before UH’s season opener against Texas Tech, the confidence as a whole is sky-high.

“I can’t wait for people to see what we put on the field,” Mutin said. “We’re going to be dominant.”

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