One of the biggest concerns of the Houston Cougars heading into 2019 was the defense. Stopping teams was a big struggle in 2018, and it became a focal point quickly. Dana Holgorsen hired Joe Cauthen to turn around the defense, and it started with the defensive line. Without Ed Oliver, who would be the guy to step up and be the star? We didn’t get an answer to that, but we saw players work on their craft to get better as a whole.
A big reason why Major Applewhite got fired was because the defensive line got worked on a consistent basis. This year, things were better, but there’s still a ton of progress to be made. Cauthen brought a new scheme to improve the front line, but that meant putting players in positions out of their comfort zone.
Derek Parish was the perfect example. More of a linebacker, Parish played out of position all year, but played with great technique to be the statistical leader of this group. He was always the underdog in any matchup he faced, but he found ways to win. Only one other player showed that same consistency.
Payton Turner improved as the year continued, and found a way to work in technique more than just natural ability. He was Houston’s most consistent pass rusher this year, and it will be fun to see him play another year with this experience. His senior season should be great, especially if others step up.
On the outside, guys like David Anenih and Isaiah Chambers provided some great plays, but didn’t quite have the consistency to see the field frequently enough. Anenih will return next season, but Chambers announced he would transfer for his final college football season. New defensive ends must emerge to add depth, but the tackle positions figure to be solid.
JaMykal Neal, Olivier Chares-Pierre, Blake Young, Aymiel Fleming, and Logan Hall all played defensive tackle this year. Not all of them produced the same impact on the game. Young and Fleming were seniors and saw most of the playing time. Both showed flashes of good play, but not enough to dominate. Neal and Charles-Pierre made a handful of big plays, and will see more reps in 2020. Hall figured to rotate in at defensive end, but Cauthen moved him to tackle. At 240 pounds, it was tough for him to handle playing inside, but he also didn’t get dominated. Where he plays next year remains a question, but he’s a good piece to add to the rotation.
Questions Going Forward
- Where does Logan Hall play?
- Who will be the go-to pass rush guy without being a specialist?
- Will the players out of position continue to thrive or will they get exposed?
While there were positives with the defensive line, there are still questions. There are a couple of players that fit their current position, but a bunch are still projects. It might be another tough year if guys like Parish and Hall are figuring things out on the run, but it could also be good. Controlling the opposing offense starts up front, and Cauthen has work to do. Fans can continue to look at the negatives, but there are still plenty of positives to find in this group for next year.