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Grading the Defense: Week 13

Against an electrically charged Tulsa offense, UC put up little resistance.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Tulsa Joey Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cincinnati Bearcats hit the road to challenge Tulsa on Friday, they knew they were in for a tough night on the defensive side of the ball. The Golden Hurricane were averaging 570 yards per game heading into the weekend and were a top 40 team in offensive S&P+.

Well Tulsa didn’t disappoint, racking up 611 yards in the 40-37 overtime win. Playing such a high-powered offense was bound to be a challenge for UC and it was likely the Golden Hurricane would hang a rather large number, but it was still a largely defensively absent game on both sides. Here’s how UC’s defenders fared in the final game of the season.

Defensive line

The good: Senior defensive tackle Chris Burton recorded his first sack of the season and a fumble recovery, Marquise Copeland had eight stops and helped Perry Young on a stop for loss and Caleb Ashworth also recorded a tackle for loss.

The bad: Burton’s sack was the only one of the game for the Bearcats, who finished with only three total tackles for loss. In addition, Tulsa’s talented running backs James Flanders and D’Angelo Brewer had no trouble darting through the line, amassing 296 yards on 60 carries as well as two touchdowns from Flanders.

Final grade: D+

Linebackers

The good: Eric Wilson closed out his stellar senior season with 13 tackles, tying with fellow linebacker Antonio Kinard for the team lead in the losing effort. However, Mike Tyson had more of an impact out of the LB position, as he racked up eight tackles but, more importantly, snagged two interceptions, showing once again that his skills as a pass defender are elevated for someone at the position. It helps that he has played safety in the past.

The bad: Flanders and Brewers were both able to cut around the second level, although they never broke off a run longer than 25 yards. Still, with an average of 4.7 yards per carry, the Tulsa backs were eating up yardage at will. In addition, the linebackers didn’t do much when it came to creating negative plays. Did I say not much? I meant they did nothing. Of their 26 combined tackles, not a one was behind the line of scrimmage from Wilson and Kinard. In addition, not one linebacker was in on UC’s three stops for loss.

Final grade: D+

Secondary

The good: Its tough to really find much to be happy about from the pass defense. Carter Jacobs had 10 tackles, forced a fumble and broke up a pass. Zach Edwards tallied nine tackles and freshman nickelback Young continued a strong push at the end of the year, breaking up a pass to go with nine total tackles. He finished the year with 42 total tackles, with 38 of those coming in the last six games.

The bad: UC was guilty of two bad pass interference penalties on a late touchdown drive from Tulsa. Grant Coleman’s penalty was more palatable than that of Linden Stephens, who interfered with an attempt from Dane Evans to Joshua Atkinson on third-and-eight from the UC 20-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Tulsa went on to score a touchdown two plays later to pull within three points (34-31). Cornerback Alex Thomas was tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction near halftime as well.

All those penalties made a day that was bad even worse, as Evans threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 25-of-38 pass attempts. Tulsa also earned 18 of its 35 first downs through the air. UC had 18 first downs total.

Final grade: F

Overall

The 611 yards allowed was the most UC let up in a single game this season and yet they still managed to have a chance at a victory. After weeks of the defense being solid and the offense doing nothing, the roles reversed this week. Sure, you can lay some of the blame on it being a road game against a talented offense, but UC’s D needed to do more for the Bearcats to end a disappointing season with some cheer.

Final grade: D-