Stop­ping the run re­mains a sta­ple of Cougars’ cul­ture

De­fense has fin­ished top 10 ver­sus run in each of last 2 sea­sons

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - TENNIS | ETC. - By Joseph Duarte

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.”

El­iz­a­beth Con­ley / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

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.

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