I am currently in the process of researching Hughes defense through the time honored tradition of watching games and writing things down. That research will be the backbone of a series of posts that will be published in this space at some point in the future, possibly next week but more likely to be the first week in June.
The first read on Hughes is that he is far more aggressive in his approach than outgoing defensive coordinator Art Kaufman was. The basic structure of the defense will remain the same, a 4-3 base alignment operating primarily with an under front. But Hughes doesn't mind mixing some stuff up. At various times last year the Huskies showed three man fronts with two linebackers, and de facto 3-4 fronts.* His defense is one that shows the offense at lot of looks while keeping the basic schemes more or less the same.
*WIth three down defensive linemen, one defensive end standing up and an outside backer on the line of scrimmage. Its 4-3 in personnel, 3-4 in appearance
So far I have liked what I have seen of Hughes's defense with UConn, at least in its approach if not the execution. Part of that is down to talent. In a year when multi year stalwarts and starters at every level of the defense moved on to the next level the 2013 Huskies were short on proven players on defense. Predictably they took a major step back from a great 2012 group. I am not inclined to place the blame for that on Hughes, at least not all of it. After all it doesn't really matter what you call if the players manage to continually blow assignments and be out of position.
Hughes's defense last year player ultra aggressive at all levels, but in the secondary in particular. UConn really challenged opposing passing games to beat them. They didn't concede easy throws and made quarterbacks be methodical. The Huskies didn't play a ton of man to man coverage, but they played plenty of cover three which is effectively man on downfield throws. That didn't work out so well, its hard to tell if the defensive backs were that bad or if the complete and total lack of any pass rush left decent defenders out to dry.
In studying the Huskies under Hughes its possible to get some idea of what he is about as a defensive coordinator, and so far I like what I see. The style that he wants to play with will actually work better with the personnel the Bearcats have than it did with UConn which was at a very low ebb this past season. IMO Hughes could run the defense as is with this Bearcats team and get better results because the Bearcats have more talent than UConn did. At linebacker, at safety and especially defensive end Hughes will have far more to work with than he did last year, that alone leaves me encouraged about what Hughes can do with this defense in 2014.