Todd Orlando isn't an unbelievably well known name in college football but he is probably the only reason that Houston hasn't struggled through this season as opposed to being a 2-loss team. Orlando is the defensive coordinator for the Cougars and even though he's had to work through injuries all over his unit, he has the second best run defense in the country and a top 10 defense. Houston lost a handful of key players from last year's defense but Orlando was able to plug in some young talent as well as a few players that had been waiting their turn to contribute. Orlando hasn't lost to UofL as a coordinator, so this week's game could be an opportunity for him to show that he truly has the Cards' number.
One of the young players that Houston has been able to plug in this year is Ed Oliver. Oliver is the best defensive freshman in the country and you could make the argument that he is the best overall freshman as he leads the Cougs in tackles from his defensive tackle position. Oliver is also tied for 6th in the country in tackles for loss per game. Oliver is a generational type of talent that will be a high pick in the draft when he gets to that point. He can play down the line when the play is away from him and he can hold the point of attack and make the tackle when you run at him. Outside of Clemson's linemen, Oliver is by far the best interior lineman Louisville will see this year and I would imagine that Louisville has spent this week scheming to account for him.
Houston runs a 3-4 hybrid defense like a good amount of teams do nowadays and OLB/DE Tyus Bowser is a really good pass rusher off the end when they go to a four-man line. Bowser has missed a handful of games due to ILB Matthew Adams broke his orbital bone during a fight at practice. Even though he's missed those games Bowser still has 6.5 sacks on the year. Nick Thurman and Cameron Malveaux round out the defensive line and they provide good size as well as some nice penetration numbers. Louisville has had some trouble maintaining a pocket for Lamar Jackson and these guys have shown some ability to crash a pocket and get pressure.
The linebacker position for Houston is probably the teams strength from a talent standpoint. Elandon Roberts is playing for the Patriots now but Matthew Adams and Steven Taylor are still around flying all over the field. Adams is more of the "sound" player for the defense but Taylor is a really outstanding player when he's healthy. Taylor ended last season with 18.5 tackles for loss and he's done 8.5 tfls and 6 sacks in 9 games. Taylor is the guy that's most likely to blitz or play downhill on run plays so he is the most dangerous of the four linebackers. Louisville did very well against Marquell Lee in the Wake game last week so they might have some schemes to account for the second level.
Houston had to replace most of the secondary from last season and it has shown in different ways. Houston's run defense is one of the best in the country but they haven't been as great when it comes to defending the pass. Houston is also 66th in turnovers gained this year but they had led the nation in two of the last three seasons in that category. Howard Wilson is one of the new starters this year at corner and he has 5 picks and 8 pbus on the season which are some of the best numbers in the country. The rest of the secondary has really been lacking in both areas. Brandon Wilson has been injured for some of the season but he is a very talented player that can run well and is versatile enough that he played some running back for the Cougars last season. Louisville's offense doesn't typically put receivers down the sideline against man coverage but these corners can run and they have ball skills. On some of the deep post routes they could undercut a poorly thrown ball as Louisville's receivers my have trouble separating from them.
The Houston safeties were all very important in their win last year and all of them are gone now. Khalil Williams and Garrett Davis are both solid players that have more of the size that you would expect at safety as well as the lacking coverage skills. Neither are huge guys, but Houston's safeties were small guys for the last few years and they were all guys that played quick and were plenty good enough to hang with receivers. Williams is a thumper who can come up against the run. He and Davis will be utilized as contain players if Houston uses the same game plan that worked so well for them last year. Todd Orlando pushed his outside safeties up the field in short zone coverages that allowed the to spy Lamar while also being able to cover passing windows. The quickness of the safeties last year made this the perfect system but I'm not sure that Williams and Davis can handle that assignment.
KEY PLAYERS: DT Ed Oliver, DE/OLB Tyus Bowser, ILB Steven Taylor, CB Howard Wilson