The defense for the Houston Cougars this season has arguable been the best the program has yielded in recent memory. There are still five games remaining on the schedule, plus a bowl game now that they are eligible for that with their sixth win coming last Saturday against Rutgers, including contests with Top 25 ranked conference opponents Louisville and Central Florida in back-to-back road games but the pace the defense is on would likely place it at the top of the category.
The linebacker corps has taken a big step forward with junior Derrick Mathews moving to the middle and having a tremendous season even in light of his impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns. He is flanked on one side by emergent junior Efrem Oliphant, who has been one big surprise at outside linebacker, and redshirt freshman Steven Taylor who is quietly having a great first season on the field for the Cougars.
"It has been a great process this year," Taylor said of the first seven games of his collegiate career. "I have great teammates and unbelievable coaches, they have been helping me out and helping me grind since summer time and have stood behind me the whole time."
With juniors Oliphant and Mathews out on the field with him he has players who have been in the program and learned a lot from that he can lean on when he sees new things.
"They help me a lot while we are all out there," he said of his fellow linebackers. "There will be times where I feel down out there and I can depend on one of them to tell me the games not over and I don't have to stress or worry, we have a lot of football left to play still and they really help me out."
In the end
"I've been playing this game since I was four years old and I really just rely a lot on my instincts and my defensive calls to get us in the right place," he said. "I also depend on my fellow teammates while I am out there, there are a lot of other guys out there running around and making plays too."
Being a key piece in the Cougars defense that has forced a NCAA leading 27 turnovers this season, Taylor and the rest of the defense had bought into defense coordinator David Gibbs emphasis on winning the turnover battle. Preparation for the team begins on the practice field but has clearly carried over.
"It starts at practice," he said of the team's success forcing turnovers. "They preach turnovers every day in practice and we will all have a lot of competition to see who will get the most turnovers that day. Usually whoever gets the most that day, they will brag in the locker room and they'll get bragging rights for the day. I guess it just carries over to the games and we believe very strongly in the turnover margins. We believe if we win the turnover margin it gives us a great chance at winning the game."
The Cougars and Taylor look to build on their successful start to the season Thursday night when they face off with conference foe South Florida with a chance to move to 4-0 in conference play heading into their two game road swing that is likely to decide who gets the American Athletic Conference's BCS Bowl berth.
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