If you want to look at the facts, you won’t feel good about the Houston Cougars performance defensively. However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. The game against Washington State actually showed a group that is better from Week 1, and one that’s beginning to believe in their abilities. Players kept the play in front of them, they rallied to the ball, and they hit the ball carriers hard. We saw things Friday night that we haven’t seen for a couple years, and that’s what fans need to focus on going forward.
Yes, Washington State’s Anthony Gordon threw for 440 yards, but his receivers were definitely sore on Saturday morning. Houston’s defenders played with high energy for the first time in what seemed like forever. Guys were rallying to the football, and hitting the ball carrier hard. Gleson Sprewell displayed that the best Friday night. He lays a clean but hard hit on Arconado, and this is a hit we haven’t seen (or heard) from the Houston defense in a couple years.
Sprewell left the game with an injury here, but it set the tone for the game. He wasn’t the only player that was hitting hard. We saw a number of players hit Washington State receivers hard, and guys were flying around the field with a great energy.
Keep the ball in front
There were only a handful of plays in which Washington State beat Houston deep. Two of those plays went for touchdowns, including this one. It’s just a one-on-one matchup that Houston didn’t win. Luckily for the Cougars, it didn’t happen often.
Houston did well keeping the game in front of them and letting teammates rally to the ball to make the tackle. Defenders were flying around making plays even if they were 5+ yards downfield. They also were making tackles. If you’ve watched the Houston Cougars the last two years, missed tackles and effort were a big concern. The first three games have shown that Joe Cauthen’s getting his kids to buy into his philosophy and a new culture. They’re getting there, and we saw some positive signs on Friday.
Speaking of changes, the defensive line showed glimpses of change too. There were a number of pass rushes that resulted in hits on Gordon. The best one came from Payton Turner. Turner beat the right tackle with speed on the edge, rips through the tackles arms, and smacks Gordon from behind.
Overall, this group needs a lot of work, but they showed signs of improvement. The first game against Oklahoma showed major flaws in this group, but they’re already better in the third game. This hit showed that Turner and the line can get after it, and believe they can get to the quarterback. They just need to do it more consistently.
Defensive Line- C-: A couple of pressure and nice plays, but still plenty of work to do.
Linebacker- C: A couple of injuries hurt, but this group was flying and made some big stops in Washington State’s backfield.
Defensive Back: B-: Lack of pressure led to some easy throws, but this group was flying around, hitting hard, and doing everything possible to keep Washington State in front of him.
If you’re still negative about this group, you need to go watch the film again. There’s a lot to like on this side of the ball. Joe Cauthen’s already instilled confidence in a group that had little the last two years. His influence is already evident with the energy on the field. Don't get me wrong, there’s work to do, but this group’s already making improvements just three games into the season.