Houston's Heisman Trophy candidate Oliver has standout teammates around him
The history of Houston Cougars football is synonymous with the evolution of offense.
From Bill Yeoman overseeing the veer option, to Jack Pardee's implementation of the run-and-shoot, into more modern times under Kevin Sumlin and Tom Herman, Houston has put points on the board in bunches. But in the new era of Cougars football, the spotlight's turned to defense.
In particular, defensive tackle Ed Oliver has become one of the most talked-about players in all of college football. He's a reigning All-American, a potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, and double rarity in the Heisman Trophy race as both a Group of 5 conference player and defender.
Oh, and if Oliver wins the Heisman, he may have to bring a lot more than the bronze trophy back to Houston.
"If Ed wins that, he's going to have buy all of us some Nike shoes," joked defensive end Isaiah Chambers. "Find a way to buy the whole D-line Nike shoes and take us out to [dinner]."
As Oliver rises in Heisman rankings at outlets like ESPN.com, the possibility of racking up a hefty sneaker tab looms. It would be worth it, and well-deserved: The Houston defense is rising as one.
After kicking off 2018 giving up 24 first-half points to Rice, the Cougars went more than 63 minutes between points allowed as it closed out the crosstown rival Owls Week 1, then routed Arizona in Week 2. Chambers played a huge role, particularly against Rice.
The local product made up for lost time in his first game in almost three years, recording three sacks in his college debut. Not a bad way to get going after sitting out 2016 and '17.
Chambers was redshirted his first year at TCU, where he landed as a four-star recruit. The Aldine MacArthur High School graduate returned to Houston as a Cougar the following spring to be closer to his family. He spent 2017 again on the sidelines to fulfill the NCAA's mandatory redshirt season for undergraduate transfers.
His three-sack debut showed no rust from the time spent on the sidelines, however. It also gives opposing offenses plenty more to be concerned about beyond No. 10.
With Oliver on the interior and Chambers on the edge, Houston's defensive line sets a trap on quarterbacks that defensive back Garrett Davis is more than capable of snapping shut. Davis intercepted Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate twice in the 45-18 rout, including on the Wildcats' opening possession. The tone for the blowout was set.
"We prepared hard for that game," Chambers said. "And we got what we deserved."
The Cougars' defense again prepares for an up-tempo offense with Texas Tech, coached by former Houston offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. The Red Raiders operate with a style similar to the nation-leading 49.3-points per game output Houston scored under Kingsbury's direction in 2011.
"They've got it rolling," Kingsbury said of the 2018 Cougars. "Defensively, they've been good here for a while. Ed up front is the marquee guy, and should be, but they have some good players to support him."
Houston's defense functions soundly as a unit, on the line with Payton Turner also at end; at linebacker with Austin Robinson and Roman Brown chasing down ball carriers; and in the secondary with Davis, Isaiah Johnson and Deontay Anderson.
The nucleus on game day is Oliver, and he sets the tone during the week.
"Ed turns us up. We all want to practice like Ed, and it starts on the practice field," Chambers said. "Ed shows out every day in practice. You want a guy like that on your team."
Likewise, a player like Oliver with a shot at the Heisman Trophy is fortunate to have playmakers around him.
Houston's still a football team that can light up the scoreboard, scoring 45 points in each of the first two games. Quarterback D'Eriq King is finding his groove in much the same vein as predecessor Greg Ward Jr. But with this collection of talent around Oliver, the Cougars are adding some D to the #HTownTakeover.