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Grading the Defense: Victory Bell Edition

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It was a solid effort all around, but that doesn’t mean the group has turned the corner yet.

Miami Ohio v Cincinnati

There’s a narrative that can be constructed that Miami-Ohio actually had a relatively strong offensive game against Cincinnati this past weekend. The RedHawks averaged 5.8 yards per play, which was the second-highest mark of any of UC’s first four opponents, including nationally ranked Houston. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Miami only ran 54 plays, compared to the 87 that the Bearcats got off.

The contradicting narrative will point you in the direction of UC’s success against the run and on third down, as it allowed just 2.2 yards per carry while keeping the RedHawks to a 2-for-11 success rate on third down. Plus, there’s the whole winning the game thing, which the UC defense had a major hand in as the UC offense put forth a so-so effort.

Now let’s break down the production from each positional group.

Defensive line

The good: Miami showed a dedication to the run game and UC continued to show that it was a bad idea, holding it to 2.2 yards per attempt. Sophomore defensive end Marquise Copeland was extremely impressive on the edge, racking up 2.0 tackles for loss, including one of five sacks from the Bearcats, while also forcing a fumble. Kimoni Fitz combined with linebacker Antonio Kinard on another one of those sacks and defensive tackle Cortez Broughton had four tackles and, surprisingly, an interception.

The bad: If you want to be a stickler, Miami running back Kenny Young did rush for 51 yards on 11 carries (4.6 yards per carry), but starter Alonzo Smith managed only 23 yards on 10 attempts, so the defensive line clearly did a good job overall keeping holes closed to opposing rushers.

Final grade: B+

Linebackers

The good: For once, Eric Wilson did not lead the team in tackles. However, UC’s defensive leader had yet another strong game. He netted seven tackles total, including a sack. He already has 42 tackles this season, including 4.5 for loss and 3.0 sacks. Kinard is having a nice season of his own, and he matched Wilson with seven tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Jaylyin Minor also had a tackle for a loss in this one.

The bad: As with the defensive line, there weren’t any overtly terrible plays made by the linebacking corps, but it still wasn’t an absolutely dominant performance, just a very good one.

Final grade: B+

Secondary

The good: While the defensive line was chasing Miami quarterback Billy Bahl around, the secondary was stopping him from getting easy passes off. Miami ran more than it passed, with Bahl attempting 24 pass attempts and he only completed 13 of those and was intercepted once (although by Broughton and not somebody in the secondary). A number of contributors in the secondary made tons of plays in the game. Safety Malik Clements led the team with nine total tackles and transfer safety Davin Pierce had five tackles including a sack as well as a pass breakup.

The bad: There was a breakdown in the third quarter when Bahl threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Jared Murphy which put the RedHawks ahead, 17-10. It was one of two touchdown passes Bahl had in the game. Tyrell Gilbert was relatively quiet and Linden Stephens did record a pass breakup, but was called for a pass interference penalty that ended up helping Miami on a scoring drive in the second quarter.

Final grade: C+

Overall

Once again playing without standout safety Zach Edwards, the defense was solid, showing tightness against the run, pressuring the quarterback and getting the job done in key situations, including the red zone, with Miami scoring just one touchdown in four tries. Wilson remains the engine in the middle who makes the unit go, but its been heartening to see progress from a defensive line that was colored by uncertainty all summer.

Not to end on a sour note, however, but remember that this was all done against the No. 83 offense in the country. Next week, against USF (No. 21 in total offense), the margin for error will be razor thin.

Final grade: B