Please watch the following video before you read this article.
The first guy with the ball is Miami (Ohio) quarterback Gus Ragland. The guy who catches the pass is Malik Clements, who does not play for Miami (Ohio). Clements is a junior safety for the Cincinnati Bearcats and the hero of the 2017 Battle for the Victory Bell since the touchdown he scored in the above video ended up winning the game for UC.
It was a great end to a major comeback for the Bearcats, who have their defense to thank for the win. Clements is a key member of that defense, which has been holding things together for the team in its first year under Luke Fickell. It is probably a surprise to nobody, but Fickell and his staff, especially defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, have worked hard to build a unit that is aggressive and technically sound. Clements in one of the padawans who has benefited the most from the new scheme and coaching personnel.
Before this year, Clements, a former three-star recruit, was busy working his way into the rotation during the 2015 and 2016 season, when he had a combined 59 tackles. However, he was still further down on the depth chart with Tyrell Gilbert and Zach Edwards owning the starting safety spots a year ago. An opportunity for Clements to really show his stuff came this summer when Edwards graduated and Gilbert was transitioned to a hybrid linebacker position. Clements became a starting safety.
Now he is becoming a star.
It all started in the opener against Austin Peay. The UC defense had to do everything in its power to ensure the offense would be in a position to pull out a win. Even though the Bearcats allowed more than 200 yards on the ground, they did complete their mission. Clements’ tackling ability played a major part in that.
Fickell and Freeman put a lot of emphasis on becoming a technically sound tackling team, and that has been evident in the play of Clements, as well as linebackers Perry Young and Jaylyin Minor. However, it was Clements who led the team with 18 tackles in that opening win. Granted, a large majority of those were assisted stops, but as a safety, its better when Clements comes in to help teammates finish a play rather than being the only person left to end things. Against Michigan, Clements was a bit more subdued, as was the team as a whole. He had four solo tackles and the hype that had been building slipped.
It came roaring back in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of the 2017 Battle for the Victory Bell. With 1:07 to play and a 17-14 lead in their hands, the RedHawks inexplicably decided to throw the ball on third and seven. In a play that was reminiscent of Malcolm Butler’s game-sealing interception in Super Bowl XLIX, Ragland looked to make a pass to a receiver who lined up in the slot and was making a move to the outside. Although linebacker Tyquan Statham was in pursuit, Clements read the play and came running in to interrupt the pass. He did more than that, snagging the ball out of the air and running untouched 14 yards into the end zone. Clements ended up with seven tackles and that glorious interception.
While he was a solid, but by no means elite recruit, Clements has pushed expectations up for himself and on Saturday put his own hype train back in business. The American Athletic Conference already bought a ticket, naming him the AAC Defensive Player of the Week. Make sure you reserve your seat now, because this train is going to fill up quickly.