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Run it (Bro)back- Houston Film Breakdown - Defense vs. SMU

The effort’s there, but the fundamentals are a struggle at times.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 SMU at Houston Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Joe Cauthen is already showing why Houston fans should be excited about him. The only problem is they need to look closely. Cauthen’s group may not be an elite defense, but they’re making improvements every week to become a good one. Effort no longer is an issue, so now he just has to fix some fundamentals. Outside of a handful of big plays, the Cougars did well against the Mustangs explosive offense Thursday night.

Fundamentals still an issue

Any fan can tell that missed tackles are an issue, and the Houston Cougars struggle in that department at times. Most of their mistakes are fixable, but it takes time. Cauthen’s already addressed the issue of effort from the previous two years, and also instilled a “never give up” attitude. The things they can do better will help them not beat themselves.

Two big mistakes that jumped out on film were simple assignments: redirecting a receiver. One didn’t happen, and another was a whiff. The first one, Amaud Willis-Dalton, who just moved to safety, doesn’t get hands on James Proche. I don’t know if it really makes a difference if he does, but Deontay Anderson would have a little more time to close a wide open throwing lane for Shane Buechele here.

This next one comes with practice, but also exposes an issue in assignments. Donavan Mutin whiffs on a hit on the tight end here, which leaves him wide open in the end zone. As you can see, the bigger issue is that he’s wide open. A redirection gives Grant Stuard or someone else time to realize what’s happening and cover him, but it doesn’t happen and SMU gets an easy score.

Pressure with no results

Earlier this year, we talked about the lack of pressure applied by the defensive line. That’s changed over the last three weeks. Payton Turner’s led the charge, and David Anenih’s also stepped up. Early in the game against SMU, the Coogs were getting pressure on Buechele, but weren’t getting any sacks. Here, Buechele is forced out of the pocket, escaping the pressure and gets a pass off. There were a handful of plays just like this, and it has to frustrate this group.

Eventually these will translate into sacks, but it’s still frustrating. If the line continues to improve in this area of the game some of these pressures will turn into sacks in the future.

Xavier Jones was a dude

While we can acknowledge that tackling is an issue for the Houston defense, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. SMU running back Xavier Jones showed what a good back can do to a defense, but also is a reminder of our first point above (fundamentals are important).

Jones’ first cut is just insane, but three poor angles by Houston defenders later on lead to a touchdown. It was a great play by Jones, but Houston could have tackled him at their own 40 yard line if they didn’t overpursue.

The second play by Jones was just smash mouth football. Grant Stuard has Jones in the hole, but Jones wins the matchup with his leg drive and balance.

We can admit that Jones is a great player without insulting Stuard or the Houston defense. You’re not going to win every play, and sometimes the opponent is just better. Just get back to the drawing board and try again.

Quick notes

  • Houston can play good defense, but they have mental lapses too. There were a few drives by SMU where Houston had them in poor positions, but allowed a big play.
  • Coverage opposite of Damarion Williams was better this game, but still needs some work.
  • We were only blessed with a Williams-James Proche/Reggie Roberson a handful of times. Once SMU realized they could line them up elsewhere and be more successful, they didn’t bother sending them to face Williams.


Defensive line- B: More pressure made an impact early, and were starting to see fewer combinations as Cauthen finds out who can play.

Linebacker- C: Zamar Kirven’s absence was noticeable, as was Terrance Edgeston’s. Donavan Mutin’s still learning quite a bit.

Defensive back- C+: Until Houston finds a cornerback opposite of Williams, teams will continue to throw that way. Plain and simple. We did see improvement from this group as a whole.


If fans were looking for a drastic turnaround, they weren’t ever going to get one. Houston’s defense needed a new leader, and we’ve seen what that can do for this group in terms of effort and mental toughness. Fundamentals will be a point of emphasis going forward, and upsets are possible if they improve in that area.