HOUSTON (AP) Houston freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver has been disruptive since his collegiate debut against Oklahoma when he had two sacks.
Seven games into his career, he's beginning to take over and has 23 tackles in the last two games combined for the 11th-ranked Cougars .
''From week to week I guess the game has slowed down a little bit compared to Oklahoma,'' he said. ''I was kind of just running around, and now it seems like I'm kind of just playing football.''
Oliver is tied for the team lead with 43 tackles, is second in the American Athletic Conference with 9 1/2 tackles for losses and has three sacks.
He's also become adept at batting down passes and added two in a win over Tulsa on Saturday to give him five this season. Oliver finds it amusing that people are so interested in his success in this area.
''If I can't get the sacks I guess I'll bat the ball down,'' he said. ''Just watching the quarterback's hand and time it up when it comes out and hit it. It's not really hard.''
Though Oliver downplays his success in breaking up passes, coach Tom Herman knows how rare it is for a defensive tackle to knock down as many as he has. And he raved about his contributions to Houston's defense.
''Everybody wants to point to his physical tools, which are obviously exceptional,'' Herman said. ''But the thing that makes Ed Oliver Ed Oliver is his tenacity and his motor. That guy goes full speed from snap to whistle, every single play that he's in. If he can't get to the quarterback, he's got a knack for jumping up and batting balls down.''
His skill in that area has some wondering if he looks up to Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who has knocked down so many passes in his career that he's earned the nickname ''J.J. Swatt.'' Though Oliver appreciates Watt's game and said it would be ''awesome'' to work out with him one day, he actually looks up to another NFL defensive lineman.
''Probably the person I look up to the most is Suh. Ndamukong Suh,'' Oliver said of the Miami Dolphins defensive tackle. ''Very dominate, o-lineman are actually scared of that dude. So If I could be like anybody, I'd be like him.''
It's hard to imagine that very many people would be frightened of Oliver off the field, with his easy smile and jokes galore. But the 6-foot-2, 290-pound Oliver loves how intimidating he is in games.
''That makes your job easier if people are just moving out the way,'' he said with a laugh. ''It's fine with me.''
Oliver was the star of Herman's recruiting class this year. It was a bit of a surprise that he chose Houston after being rated as one of the best defensive tackles in the country following a senior season in which he had 83 tackles, including 20 for losses, nine sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
He wasn't sure what the atmosphere would be like playing for the Cougars, but he has enjoyed it so far as the team has gained more national attention thanks to starting the season 5-0 before a loss to Navy last week.
''I always liked the big stage,'' he said. ''I didn't think the stage could get that big here but it was and I just play.''
Oliver had a season-high 12 tackles on Saturday night after finishing with 11 in the 46-40 loss to Navy. Unflinchingly honest, he was excited to have a big game in a win after his tackles didn't mean much last week since Houston lost.
''At least this one won't be forgotten like last week,'' he said. ''At least they'll talk about the (12) tackles.''
Oliver did so much on Saturday night that he didn't even realize how many stops he finished with against Tulsa and playfully argued with a reporter who told him he had another double-digit performance.
That doesn't mean he's surprised that he's been so successful early in his career.
''I knew I would be able to play with the game speed,'' he said. ''I knew it wouldn't be a big jump as far as game speed, but I had no idea I was going to have (this many tackles).''
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