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Grading the Defense: Week Eight

With an obvious focus on stopping ECU’s pass attack, UC fell victim to the run in an uneven performance.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When your team wins, especially when it is desperate for a victory, it largely washes away the warts of any game. Just ask fans of the Arizona Cardinals or Seattle Seahawks if they would be as depressed if there team managed to get a chip-shot field goal to go through the uprights on Sunday.

However, even if the blemishes of Cincinnati’s 31-19 win over East Carolina were scrubbed away by the strong play of the offense, they didn’t disappear entirely. The bulk of those negatives came on the defensive side of the field, where the Bearcats were gashed for 504 yards of total offense, while actually allowing more first downs (28) than the offense gained (25). Let’s break it down by position.

Defensive line

The good: Junior defensive end Mark Wilson and sophomore Kevin Mouhon were both fairly involved, recording six and five tackles, respectively, while Mouhon also forced a fumble. Marquise Copeland also recorded five stops and Cortez Broughton and Landon Brazile combined for 1.5 tackles for loss with a pass break up apiece.

The bad: Philip Nelson was not under pressure very much at all and had plenty of time to run the offense for ECU. The Bearcats did not record a single sack, which obviously is a full-team issue, but it is most damning on the line which is always pinning its ears back and attacking the line of scrimmage with the hope of bringing down the quarterback. That just didn’t happen despite 43 pass attempts from Nelson. Additionally, the line lost the battle in the trenches when ECU ran the ball, as the Pirates tallied 221 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Seeing ECU pass wasn’t a surprise, but giving up more than 200 yards to the 10th-best rushing team in the AAC isn’t a great look.

Final grade: D+

Linebackers

The good: Here is your weekly reminder that Eric Wilson is fantastic. He once again led the team in tackles, this time recording 16 stops. He leads the AAC in tackles (81) and has been in double digits in five games this season. He also recovered a fumble when ECU was deep in the UC red zone early in the fourth quarter, a key takeaway to be sure. Antonio Kinard (11 tackles, 1.5 TFL) also made a number of plays.

The bad: James Summers, Anthony Scott and Nelson all ran very effectively, and the linebackers need to take some of the fault for that, especially when Nelson was able to average 5.6 yards per carry. In addition, Kinard was whistled for a targeting penalty early in the fourth quarter.

Final grade: C-

Secondary

The good: Against the top passing offense in the conference, the UC secondary actually held its own. Nelson did complete 28-of-43 pass attempts, but for only 283 yards. The Pirates have averaged 364.4 yards per game through the air. Zay Jones, the top receiver in the league was a target monster, catching 11 balls, but he didn’t make any breakout plays, tallying 69 yards with a long reception of 17. Credit is due to safety Tyrell Gilbert (seven tackles, forced fumble, interception) for being in on the action and making plays on the ball. Additionally, Alex Thomas snagged an interception and Zach Edwards racked up 13 tackles, including one for loss.

The bad: While Jones was kept in check by his standards, Jimmy Williams broke out for 129 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions. Also, Edwards and Grant Coleman were both called for infractions, with Edwards being called offsides and Coleman being flagged for a personal foul that gifted ECU 15 yards.

Final grade: C

Overall

Struggles up front took away from UC’s rather solid effort against a high-powered passing attack. Giving up more than 500 yards of offense is never going to be a good thing, but the defense still did some positive stuff. It didn’t allow a touchdown in two red zone trips and although it allowed conversions on 8-of-17 third down chances, by forcing some turnovers (the Bearcats are now second in the conference in forced turnovers with 18), it did enough to get the job done, even if there are some obvious problems that won’t always be covered up.

Final grade: C-