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Grading the Defense: Week Five

Against USF, the Bearcats were better than last year. That’s not saying much.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In week five, the Cincinnati Bearcats had a major challenge on their hands. A top ten offense (as calculated by S&P ratings) invaded Nippert Stadium, and an improving defense was tasked with slowing it down.

In the aftermath of the game against USF, the knee jerk reaction is to think the defense failed. In some ways it did. Allowing 45 points doesn’t really scream ‘85 Bears, nor does letting up 454 yards. But, things could be worse, the Bearcats could have given up 65 points and 561 total yards.

Which they did.

Last year against USF.

So, the 2016 defense played a bit better. I guess that’s something. Here’s the position-by-position breakdown.

Defensive line

The good: Kevin Mouhon has continued to show an ability to create negative plays. Of his four total tackles, three went for a loss. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Alex Pace recorded his first solo sack of the season, and on USF’s Quinton Flowers, an elusive target to say the least. Marquise Copeland had five tackles and continued to show he is an up and comer at defensive end.

The bad: Flowers wasn’t pressured all that much, with Pace recording the only sack of the day for the Bearcats. That wasn’t great because it let the USF quarterback complete passes and scamper off when he wanted to do that instead. Additionally, the battle for the trenches was lost when it came to the ground game, as USF pounded out 226 yards and five scores via the run, including 118 and two from Marlon Mack. Also, the defensive line accounted for three of the team’s four penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Cortez Broughton.

Final grade: D+

Linebackers

The good: Thank the heavens for Eric Wilson. The middle linebacker finished with a team-high 12 tackles to lead the UC defense. Mike Tyson was a standout as well, making plays up and down the field, including eight tackles, two TFL and a pass breakup. His background as a safety is really paying dividends as he slots in at linebacker. Additionally, Antonio Kinard continued to be a decent replacement for Byrce Jenkinson, finishing with five stops.

The bad: Even Wilson couldn’t put together a really awesome game, as he did not manage a single tackle for loss. Additionally, the linebacking crew has to take some of the blame for USF’s bulldozing in the run game.

Final grade: C-

Secondary

The good: Zach Edwards was back and didn’t shy away from contact, tying with Tyson for the second-most tackles on the team. Linden Stephens broke up two passes and had five tackles and Tyrell Gilbert made some plays (seven tackles). The Bulls also didn’t have a passing touchdown.

The bad: The secondary wasn’t tested all that often, as USF threw the ball only 33 times compared to its 48 attempts on the ground. Some of that is game flow (no need to pass when you’re up by three touchdowns). However, the Bearcats gave up more than a few passing plays of more than 20 yards and struggled to lock down Rodney Adams (six receptions, 66 yards) entirely.

Final grade: C-

Overall

Statistically speaking, there were some players that stood out with solid production, but numbers only tell part of the story. Even if the offense completely collapsed in on itself in the second half, UC’s defense didn’t entirely slow the Bulls. Flowers toyed with the front seven, Mack ran all over and USF pretty much did whatever it wanted, converting on 8-of-18 third down tries, 3-of-3 fourth down attempts, while putting 4-of-6 red zone trips into the end zone. It was certainly better than the catastrophe of last year’s meeting, but being just a tick better than a dumpster fire isn’t anything to post on the fridge.

Final grade: D+/C-