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Run it (Bro)back: Houston Film Breakdown: Defense vs. North Texas

We saw energy and big hits from this group, and it made an impact on the game.

Houston v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The big ones


We’ve been saying it all year. Houston needed work in the pressure department. The front seven (or six) weren’t making an impact on the games, and we saw what it looks like when they assert themselves. Payton Turner got things started with an explosive tackle for loss. Here he explodes off the line and gets in the backfield as soon as the ball carrier gets the ball in his hands. Turner finishes the play eventually, and sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Houston’s defense was flying with energy, something we knew to keep an eye on from the previous games. Guys were flying around the field and making huge hits all game. This is no longer a group that plays scared, and they showed what they can do when they’re making an impact on the game.

Let North Texas make mistakes

It might seem like Houston’s giving up a number of chunk plays, but it’s a smart strategy. Houston didn’t let North Texas beat them on big plays, and it resulted in the Mean Green making mistakes. Mason Fine had a number of inaccurate throws (thanks the the aforementioned pressure), and his receivers also dropped a handful of passes. That’s what putting pressure on the quarterback and playing with energy will do for your defense.

This won’t be an elite defense, but they can help themselves by letting the opposing offense beat themselves. It worked on Saturday, and can work in future games. Eventually the defense needs to force turnovers, but for now they’re preventing big plays from happening too much.

Another corner needed (still)

Speaking of big plays, the search for another cornerback continues. North Texas created one big play for a touchdown against the Cougars secondary, this time it came against D.J. Small. While Damarion Williams continues to hold down one side of the field, Houston’s other side remains a liability.

Quick notes

  • Damarion Williams continues to set the tone for the secondary, including his physicality. North Texas learned the hard way here when they decided not to block him on a screen pass.
  • To address the issues in the secondary, Joe Cauthen switched things up. Gervarrius Owens started the game at cornerback, Ka’Darian Smith took reps at safety, and Garrison Vaughn played a large number of snaps at safety too (with plenty of success). They went away from Owens and Smith switching positions, but it seemed to work well early in the game.
  • In addition to switching things up on the backside, Cauthen did the same up front. At one point, Noah Jones and Logan Hall lined up as defensive ends with Derek Parish and David Anenih lined up inside. Cauthen also sent a variety of blitzes to Mason Fine all game with plenty of success.
  • Zamar Kirven’s going to be really good. He continues to make plays and big hits. One of the blitzes Cauthen dialed up sent Kirven unblocked towards Fine here, and it’s a hit that the UNT quarterback felt for a few days.
  • Missed tackles hindered Houston at times again, but the frequency continues to decline.
  • Grant Stuard and Damarion Williams were everywhere, combining for 21 tackles
  • Houston had eight tackles for loss in the game, which is incredible for this group.


Defensive Line- B-: Their best game arguably since 2017. Put pressure and big hits on Mason Fine, which made an impact on the game.

Linebackers- B+: Donavan Mutin and Zamar Kirven solidifying themselves as starters in Terrance Edgeston’s absence. Both are young and full of potential.

Defensive Back- B: Plenty of reps for new players. Cauthen’s looking for the right formula. Still needs to find another cornerback.


This game reminded fans why they needed to be patient. It’s been evident that this group has potential, and we saw what they’re capable of in terms of making an impact. Cauthen continues to experiment with this group, and he’s starting to find what works. There are still things to work on, but this defense is already identifying their strengths and applying them to the game.