Stopping the run remains a staple of Cougars’ culture
Defense has finished top 10 versus run in each of last 2 seasons
Nick Thurman calls it a “mentality, part of the culture” of the University of Houston defense. Stop the run. “It’s a huge responsibility,” said Thurman, a senior defensive end. “If we want to be the dudes up front, we have to set the tone.”
Few teams in college football have been as successful at stopping the run as the Cougars the past two seasons. Both times, the Cougars finished in the top 10, including fourth last season when they allowed an average 100.2 yards per game.
“It really doesn’t matter on the opponent, the expectation is to always go out and dominate,” Thurman said. “We take everybody on our schedule seriously. I feel like it’s a punch in the gut if the offense gets at least 100 yards.”
That’s exactly what the Cougars accomplished last season, holding the first five opponents to an average 42 yards on the ground before allowing 306 yards to Navy’s triple-option offense. SMU had 178 yards in another loss two weeks later, and the Cougars ended the season allowing their final four opponents (Tulane, Louisville, Memphis and San Diego State) to reach the unofficial century benchmark.
The ability to stop the run had a direct correlation on the Cougars’ success: UH went 2-4 in games it allowed at least 100 yards.
“Stop the run, run to the ball and hit somebody when you get there,” sophomore defensive end Aymiel Fleming said. “That’s our culture.”
Earlier this spring, first-year coach Major Applewhite said the Cougars could be even better against the run. It begins in the middle with All-America defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who had 23 tackles for loss and was generally a headache in opposing backfields.
At the end positions, the Cougars are expected to feature Thurman, who started the final five games, and Texas A&M transfer Reggie Chevis. The defensive line is considered one of the deepest areas on the team, but even that is being tested to start the season with starter Jerard Carter out until at least midseason with a foot injury. Another projected key contributor, top recruit Bryan Jones, hit a snafu in the enrollment process and will have to sit out the season.
UH will count on depth from Zach Vaughan, Chauntez Jackson, Fleming and junior college transfer Blake Young when it opens the season Saturday at Texas-San Antonio.
“Reggie is a good addition to our team,” Thurman said. “We are blessed to have some people [that have experience] and others that are learning their ways.”
UH will face challenges this season with four opponents — Navy (fourth), South Florida (fifth), Tulsa (eighth) and Arizona (19th) — finishing among the nation’s best in rushing a year ago.
That does not seem to faze Oliver.
“You can want to run the ball,” he said. “But not on Houston. That’s not just talking. I don’t even want to really talk about that. I just want to get on the field.”
Houston senior defensive end Nick Thurman and his teammates put a major emphasis on limiting opposing ground attacks, as evidenced by finishing fourth in the nation in rush defense last season.