Houston Preview 2006 - Defense
Houston Cougars
Posted Aug 7, 2006

Houston Cougars Preview 2006 - Houston Cougar Defense

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. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Rocky Schwartz, 114
Sacks: 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

Defensive 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

Projected Starters
- 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 passes
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 up passes
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.

Top Backups
- 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

Projected Starters
- 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 up passes
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 pass
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 impressive speed.

Top Backups
- 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 needed.
- Chris Pilot, Soph. - 31 tackles, 1 broken up pass, 5 quarterback hurries
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 rusher.

Defensive backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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 up passes
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.

Top Backups
- SS Joseph Gonzalez, Jr. - 38 tackles, 3 broken up passes
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 Willie Gaston. 
- 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 special teams.

Special Teams
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 return.
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 kickers.
Special Teams Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- 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.

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