2020 Houston Defensive Preview

By Maria Lysaker

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Rotation and location will be watchwords for the Cougars’ defense, which returns all but one starter from a unit that ranked 11th in the conference in scoring defense and passing defense.

It would be wise, based on Dana Holgorsen’s position-by-position rundown, to keep a flip card close by at all times. He expects, for example, to rotate a dozen bodies on the defensive line.

“We’re getting better with depth,” Holgorsen said. “(End) Payton Turner leads the charge. He’s going to be a four-year starter. But they all were healthy, and they all played during the spring.”

Under Holgorsen’s ideal line scenario, he said, “They all play about 25 plays a game, and they all play their tails off.”

Turner had eight tackles for loss last year while senior end David Anenih had seven. Nose guard Olivier Charles-Pierre and tackle Jamykal Neal offer size and starting experience, and end Alexander Duke and Derek Parish also saw action last year.

Holgorsen expects Atlias Bell, Nelson Ceaser and Willie Smith III, all of whom redshirted after limited game action last season, to join the rotation. Kilgore College transfer Sedrick Williams is the top newcomer. Gone is Eyabi Anoma, who was dismissed for a team rules violation.

Second-team all-conference nickel back Grant Stuard, who Holgorsen called the team’s defensive MVP in 2019, moves to weakside linebacker in UH’s 4-2-5 defense. He’s a difference-maker, the coach said, and so is JUCO transfer and former North Carolina recruit Malik Robinson.

Terrance Edgeston, who, along with Jordan Carmouche, missed time with injuries last season, also mans the weak side. Middle linebacker Donavan Mutin, one of a handful of UH players to start 12 games last year, and Zamar Kirven, with a half-dozen starts on the weak side, also return.

As a coach that lives to plot out projected scenarios by moving names around like yo-yos, Holgorsen is delighted to report that he has no idea who could start in the secondary, which includes eight lettermen plus a graduate transfer and four players who started at FBS schools and will be eligible at UH this fall. 

JoVanni Stewart, who played three years for Holgorsen at West Virginia, will be the nickel back. Holgorsen generally shies away from transfers with a year’s eligibility but is glad to have Stewart, who is from Katy. 

Cornerback Damarion Williams (73 tackles, two interceptions), safety Deontay Anderson and swingman Gervarrius Owens are returning starters and will be part of a rotation that includes newly eligible transfers Marcus Jones (Troy), Hasaan Hypolite (Colorado), Kelvin Clemmons (Minnesota) and grad transfer Colin Samuel (UCLA), plus Javian Smith, who missed last year with injuries, and Jordan Moore, who saw time down the stretch last year. 

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