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Grading the Defense: Week One

It did enough. But will that be, well, enough going forward?

NCAA Football: Tennessee-Martin at Cincinnati Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

In the Cincinnati Bearcats’ opener against the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks, the offense got a failing grade. However, despite all that, the Bearcats were able to pull out a win. The play of the defense played a large part in that. That’s not to say that there were not weak points from that unit as well.

Defensive Line

The good: Sacks were made. A year after only accumulating 13, the Bearcats recorded three in the opener. Defensive end Kimoni Fitz was responsible for the only sack from the defensive line, but pressure was obviously made. In addition, despite facing a total of 49 rushing attempts from the Skyhawks, the Bearcats only allowed 3.6 yards per carry and the defensive line accounted for 4.5 of the team’s eight tackles for loss.

The bad: Even if they held the Skyhawks to less than four yards per rush, 3.6 isn’t exactly outstanding. Plus, UTM gained 12 first downs via the run and six of its nine third down conversions came on the ground as well. Also, that sack total becomes less impressive when you remember the Bearcats had the exact same number in last year’s opener against Alabama A&M, another FCS foe.

Final grade: C+

Linebacker

The good: Eric Wilson. Let me say that again. Eric Wilson. He did absolutely everything in this game. He recorded 15 total tackles, including three for loss. He also had his first and second career sack, leading the way in the pass rush. Bryce Jenkinson also did a decent job, finishing with eight tackles, including 0.5 for loss.

The bad: Despite Wilson’s best efforts, the linebacking crew has to shoulder some of the blame for UC’s terrible play on third down, as UTM converted on 9-of-16 third down chances.

Final grade: B

Secondary

The good: When an opposing quarterback completes only 12-of-26 passes, is intercepted twice and only produces 146 yards through the air, you know you did something right in pass defense. UTM’s Gunnar Holcombe may have had a certain comfort level during the Skyhawks’ opening drive, when he completed 3-of-5 attempts, including a seven-yard touchdown pass to Caylon Weathers, but he had much less success the rest of the way.

As far as standouts from the unit, safeties Zach Edwards (12 tackles, one pass breakup) and Tyrell Gilbert (nine tackles, 58-yard interception return for a touchdown) made plays all over the field while Linden Stephens played well at cornerback, tallying seven tackles to go along with his own interception.

The bad: Weathers was able to find space a little more than you’d like to see, catching four passes for 66 yards, and although UTM made it a priority to run more than pass, the secondary gave up some frustrating third down conversions as well.

Final grade: B

Overall

After allowing a 75-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession, the UC defense largely found success. The Skyhawks did continually convert on third down, and that is a problem. Plus they had three other red zone chances, but they squandered those and never had a drive of more than 41 yards after their first time with the ball. With Wilson and Edwards leading the way, the Bearcats defense did enough to not necessarily dominate, but to put the team in a position to win. However, that was against a foe below the caliber UC will face going forward. The defense should have dominated. Not just done enough. With that said, its tough to feel overwhelmingly positive about the overall effort.

Final grade: C+