What you need to know ...
Ten starters return to a defense that was inconsistent
throughout last year, but should be better, especially in the
back eight of the 3-4 defense with star FS Will Gulley returning
after missing all of last year. The switch from the 4-3 to the
3-4 helped improve the run defense, but it still wasn't a rock
allowing 4.6 yards per carry and 177 yards per game. That should
improve thanks to a deep and talented linebacking corps, while
the defensive line has some good young sophomores in Cody Pree
and Phillip Hunt to get excited about. Generating more of a pass
rush is a must after coming up with 17 sacks last year.
Rocky Schwartz, 114
Wade Koehl, Cody Pree, 4
Interceptions: Kenneth Fontenette, 4
Star of the defense: Senior LB Wade Koehl
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
DE Cody Pree
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Phillip Hunt
Best pro prospect: Senior FS Will Gulley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Koehl, 2) SS Rocky
Schwartz, 3) Gulley
Strength of the defense: Experience, linebacker, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Depth on the line
The three up front in the Cougar 3-4 has to be stronger
against the run and has to get into the backfield more after helping to
generate a mere 17 sacks last season. While it's the linebackers' job to
provide a steady pass rush in this defense, expect sophomore Cody Pree
and Phillip Hunt to combine for at least ten sacks thanks to their
combination of quickness and size. Marquay Love has been a mainstay in
the middle of the line, but he needs to take another step up in his
overall production for the Cougar D to be better.
The key to the unit: Find reliable backups to play bigger roles
and generate more of a pass rush.
Defensive Line Rating: 5
- DE Cody Pree, Soph. - 43 tackles, 4 sacks, 6 TFL
There's a lot to get excited about with the 300-pound second year
starter. While technically called a defensive end, he's like another
tackle on the inside against the run. Even so, he's also a good pass
rusher with a relentless drive. His sack stats could explode if Phillip
Hunt plays as expected on the other side.
- NT Marquay Love, Sr. - 38 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 3 broken up
The 6-0, 320-pound rock in the middle is back for his third year in what
should be an all-conference season. He's athletic for his size with a
surprising ability to block kicks and break up passes. At the team's
biggest player, he has to swallow everything up on the inside and needs
to make more plays in the backfield.
- DE Phillip Hunt, Soph. - 23 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL, 3 broken
Even though he's only 6-1 and 250 pounds, Hunt is effective thanks to
his tremendous speed. He's a blur off the line with too much quickness
for most tackles. His development will be one of the keys to a defense
that could use a steady pass rushing force.
- DE L.C. Kirkpatrick, Sr. - 7 tackles, 1 TFL
The 280-pound senior overcame a broken leg to be a backup for most of
last year. Injuries have kept him from living up to his prep hype, but
now he'll be expected to be a valuable reserve at both left end behind
Cody Pree and nose tackle behind Marquay Love.
- NT Rickey Barela, Sr. - 6 tackles, 2 TFL
While only 5-10, the 285-pound senior is strong and aggressive on the
inside. He'll back up Marquay Love on the nose and needs to be a key
part of the rotation this year.
This is an experienced group with tremendous depth and
several options to move in and out of the 3-4 scheme, but it has to be
better against the run. Size isn't an issue and neither is athleticism,
so there's no real reason there shouldn't be more production. Wade Koehl
is a tremendous talent on the outside, while Trent Allen and Cody
Lubojasky should be better now that they know what they're doing.
Backups Rodney Rideau, Chris Pilot and Scott Lee would be starting for
several other Conference USA teams.
The key to the unit: Be stronger against the run and
make more big plays.
Linebacker Rating: 7
- Wade Koehl, Sr. - 89 tackles, 4 sacks, 14 TFL, 1
interception, 2 broken up passes, 4 quarterback hurries
A top tackler for the last three seasons with 262 career stops, the 6-2,
230-pound senior might have made 100 stops last year if he didn't miss a
little time with a knee injury. Expect him to be one of the best
all-around linebackers in Conference USA again this year and one of the
leaders of the defense.
- Trent Allen, Jr. - 71 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 interception, 2 broken
Allen has the quickness to play on the weakside, but at 244 pounds he's
better suited for the middle. After missing all of 2004, he came back to
be a rock on the inside. He was one of the team's steadiest, most
consistent tacklers after he got his feet wet in the starting role.
- Cody Lubojasky, Soph. - 74 tackles, 1 sack, 6 TFL, 1 broken up
It took a little while for the 6-3, 230-pounder to figure out what he
was doing last year, but he quickly turned into a tremendous playmaker
on the weakside. He's not just a big outside linebacker, he's quick with
a good nose for the ball and a good burst into the backfield.
- Brendan Pahulu, Jr. - 84 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 9
TFL, 7 quarterback hurries, 2 forced fumbles
Pahulu bulked up a bit to get to 225 pounds and now should take yet
another step up in his production. After a decent freshman year making
50 tackles, he exploded last year with a tremendous season on the
outside making big play after big play. He's a big hitter with
- Rodney Rideau, Soph. - 57 tackles
With the speed to play on the weakside and the hitting ability to play
on the strongside, Rideau is a quick, sure-tackling reserve for both the
outside spots. Along with being a top special teams tackler, he also
proved he can handle being part of the rotation and could start if
- Chris Pilot, Soph. - 31 tackles, 1 broken up pass, 5
A good hitter for his size, the 6-1, 215-pound sophomore should play a
bigger role this year on the outside using his speed as a good pass
rusher and pass defender. He'll start out backing up Brendan Pahulu, but
he could end up finding himself starting before the year is over.
- Scott Lee, Sr. - 40 tackles, 2 sacks, 9 TFL, 3 quarterback
hurries, 3 forced fumbles
Lee is a huge, huge hitter. The 6-4, 245-pound senior is the team's
biggest linebacker and handles himself well on the outside. He doesn't
get run over and he can be used like another defensive end as a pass
The secondary should be a plus this
year helped immensely by the return of safety Will Gulley from a knee
injury and the experience on the corners. Willie Gaston will the number
one shut down man, while Kenneth Fontenette will quickly be a playmaker
moving from safety to corner thanks
to the return of Gulley. There's a little bit of quality depth to count
on and some interesting options in redshirt freshmen Broderick Bean and
Brandon Brinkley moving over from the offensive side of the ball to
provide safety help.
The key to the unit: Consistency. The secondary shut
down some attacks, but got picked clean by the mid-level passing games.
Secondary Rating: 7
- CB Willie Gaston, Sr. - 43 tackles, 1 interception, 13
broken up passes
The former quarterback is a fantastic tackling corner, but he made more
of an impact last year turning into a top coverman with an impressive 13
broken up passes. He's a great ball-hawker and a reliable hitter against
the run with 128 career stops.
- FS Will Gulley, Sr.
Gulley ended up missing all of last year with a knee injury, and now
he's back as one of the team's best all-around defenders. He was a
tackling machine in 2003 and 2004 combining to make 173 tackles along
with 19 broken up passes, and now that he's healthy, the 6-3, 215-pound
senior should be one of Conference USA's best defenders.
- SS Rocky Schwartz, Jr. - 114 tackles, 1 interception, 6 broken
Schwartz earned a few all-conference honors last season and should be up
for even more recognition this year. The 5-11, 195-pound junior doesn't
miss a tackle with 197 stops in his first two seasons along with 16
broken up passes and four interceptions. He has great speed and range
and can be used as a kick returner if needed. An amazing 21 tackle game
against UCF was one of five games with double-digit stops.
- CB Kenneth Fontenette, Soph. - 76 tackles, 4 interceptions, 1
broken up pass
The talented sophomore had a terrific freshman season getting better as
the season went on. He's a safety playing corner at 6-0 and 175 pounds
with good hitting ability. With the return of Will Gulley, Fontenette
can switch to playing amore natural corner position, but he'll still be
an effective defender against the run. He made 12 tackles against UCF
and ten against Rice to go along with a team-leading five interceptions.
- SS Joseph Gonzalez, Jr. - 38 tackles, 3 broken up
Gonzalez played a key role in the secondary last year when Will Gulley
was out, and now will backup Rocky Schwartz at strong safety. He spent
most of his time as a backup and on special teams, and now he'll be a
key, experienced reserve for both safety spots.
- CB Quinte Williams, Soph. - 6 tackles, 1 tackles for loss
One of the team's most athletic defensive backs, the 5-11, 170-pound
sophomore will play more of a role this year as a key backup behind
- CB Kellan Yancy, Jr. - 2 tackles
The former JUCO transfer has the speed and the size to be a quality
reserve behind Kenneth Fontenette. He'll spend most of his time on
Veterans return to handle the kicking game,
but it shouldn't be anything special. Punter Justin Laird is
experienced, but he needs more blast on his kicks and the coverage team
needs to be better after Houston finished 118th in the nation last year
netting 27.58 yards per kick. Ben Bell will handle the short-range field
goals, while T.J. Lawrence will be the deep kicker. Vincent Marshall is
a tremendous punt returner averaging 14.6 yards per pop last year, and
he'll combine with Donnie Avery to handle kickoff returns after a
mediocre 2005. The Cougars, as a team, averaging 19 yards per kickoff
The key to the unit: Far, far more from the punting
game from Justin Laird down to the coverage unit, a bit more explosion
from the kickoff returns and more consistency from the field goal
Special Teams Rating: 6.5
- PK Ben Bell, Soph. - 8-12 FGs, 37-39 extra points &
T.J. Lawrence, Jr. - 5-10 FGs
Bell took over the kicking duties from short to midrange last year and
was decent, but not spectacular missing three kicks inside the 30. He'll
handle the short range shots and the extra points, while T.J. Lawrence
will do the deep kicking handling all the attempts from beyond 40 yards
with one miss from 36.
- P Justin Laird, Sr. - 47 punts, 1,858 yds, 39.5 average, 10
inside the 20
Laird returns to handle the punting
duties after an average 2005. He can also be used as a placekicker, but
he's better served exclusively as a punter. While he doesn't have a big
leg and doesn't get enough air under the ball, he showed more range as
the season went on finishing up with a tremendous performance in the
bowl loss to Kansas.