Ed Oliver was one of the highest ranked recruits in Houston Cougar history. A coup for Tom Herman's rebuild at Houston. The true freshman defensive tackle from Spring Westfield was a five star recruit at a position that ideally redshirts. Oliver didn't redshirt, instead he's taken college football by storm.
Oliver started all nine Cougar games in 2016. He leads the Cougar defense in tackles with 52, including a team leading 37 solo stops. Oliver has also had a team leading 15 tackles for loss and has 3 sacks. Typically young interior players on both sides of the ball struggle to acclimate but Oliver's great instincts and freakish athletic ability have allowed him to play beyond the curve.
That athleticism was on display in the opener against a Top 10 Oklahoma team. Let's look at a couple of plays from the OU game to illustrate the point.
Here we go, third and four, game is tight, OU runs and option look to the boundary side. Oliver is lined up at the nose.
The first thing you'll notice is how Oliver takes a Big 12 center and reestablishes the line of scrimmage two yards up field. He's got the center on skates, playing with great leverage and strength. Oliver does an excellent job using his hand to shuck his blocker and work down the line to make a play on Baker Mayfield.
This next play is some freakish stuff. OU runs a successful bubble to former Cameron Yoe receiver Dede Westbrook. Westbrook you might remember from his torching of the Texas defense at the Cotton Bowl a month ago. Westbrook makes good yardage but that's not what we're concerned with. This is a play draws up memories of Warren Sapp. Watch Oliver make a great play in space.
We often talk about hips, analysts at the NFL combine are overly consumed with hips, here's an example of a big man, 6'2 290, opening up his hips, changing direction and moving like a safety. Ok, a linebacker, but it's still impressive. I'd bet that the last guy Westbrook expected to see fifteen yards downfield was the nose guard.
Ok, last play, this is from the Tulsa game. Football is a leverage game, always has been. Here the task for the offensive center is to get to the nose guard's playside shoulder or at the very least engage center mass and get a stalemate. Once Oliver reads run, his job is to fight to get across the face of the center and protect his playside shoulder. Don't get hooked, get across the face and make a play. Oliver's athleticism in a phone booth makes him special.
Oliver's get off is incredible, at the snap he's playing with speed and leverage that are beyond his experience. The center, who had a rough night, has no chance to win the stalemate. Oliver gets his non-playside shoulder across the face of the center and then opens up and runs down a pretty good back in space. Again, that's not a play that an offensive coordinator expect a defensive tackle to make. Oliver makes that play on a regular basis.
Here's the scary thing, he's a freshman. A kids who was playing against Dekaney high school 10 months before. Oliver will continue to get bigger and better with a full offseason in the program. The AAC isn't looking forward to that.