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Grading the Defense: Week 10

There’s a reason 17 points was all it took to win on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to boil Cincinnati’s win over Tulane down to one play, it’s obviously the one where a field goal attempt went wide left. But the Bearcats had to play a full 60 minutes to get to the finish line, and that one play, while crucial, wasn’t what set UC up to win. The offense did some things for the cause, but it was the defense that really stuck its neck out and made sure 17 points (and a miracle finish) was all it took to dispatch the Green Wave. It wasn’t just a one-man show either, as players up and down the depth chart lent a hand in turning the Green Wave into a ripple in a pond.

Defensive Line

The Good: Defending the run seemed like a lost cause against Tulane, a team that has had tons of success on the ground this season. UC put that notion on its head, dominating the trenches on defense to keep the Green Wave contained. The Bearcats held their hosts to 3.8 yards per carry and only 132 yards total. Star running back Dontrell Hilliard was especially stymied at the point of attack. The third leading rusher in the American Athletic Conference had a season-low 40 yards on 18 carries as he ran in quicksand for 2.2 yards an attempt.

On an individual level, Lyndon Johnson recorded one of four tackles for loss while tying with Kevin Mouhon for the third-most tackles by a Bearcat (six).

The Bad: For how well the line did against the run, it struggled to contain Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks, who was not sacked once and ran for 75 yards and a touchdown on his own.

Final Grade: B+

Linebackers

The Good: Perry Young had himself a ballgame, helping to disrupt the run game along with the rest of the front seven. He not only finished with a team-high 10 tackles (including eight solo jobs), he also had 3.0 TFL. He has recorded 8.5 total this season and has had 3.0 in two games, including the season opener against Austin Peay. In addition, he has had double digit tackles in each of the last two contests. Jaylyin Minor had a subdued day by his standards, but his seven tackles still ranked second on the team. Plus, highly touted recruit Jarell White got himself into the starting lineup.

The Bad: Banks’ ability to pick up chunks of yardage wasn’t just a shortcoming of the defensive line. Still, there’s not much to complain about.

Final Grade: A-

Secondary

The Good: Banks may have run a little wild but he didn’t run up his yardage total through the air, finishing with 196 yards. Linden Stephens recorded his seventh pass breakup of the season. He is now tied for sixth in the AAC in the category. Tulane’s leading receiver, Terren Encalade, was blanketed and only had two receptions for 14 yards.

The Bad: Backfield pressure from the secondary was virtually non-existent, while Banks was still able to complete 17-of-24 passes even if that didn’t lead to tons of yards. In addition, Darnell Mooney didn’t seem to have the trouble that Encalade did, as he finished with 115 yards on seven receptions.

Final Grade: B-

Overall

While Tulane was already one of the worst offensive teams in the AAC entering last Saturday, the Green Wave at least had some positive aspects to their scheme, especially on the ground. Hilliard is extremely talented and leads a team that ranks fourth in the league in rushing yards. UC must not have gotten the memo, as it shut down Hilliard and the running game as a whole. Without the ability to move via the ground, the Green Wave were limited to a measly 328 yards of total offense, although they did average 5.6 yards per play. But that average meant nothing because UC stood tall on third down, allowing just 4-of-12 conversions, which went well with the strong effort against the run.

Final Grade: A-