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Grading the Defense: Week One

Luke Fickell and Marcus Freeman got some great play from the linebackers.

Austin Peay v Cincinnati Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The offense wasn’t great in Cincinnati’s opener against Austin Peay, but Luke Fickell is a defense-first head coach, coming over to Cincinnati after serving as defensive coordinator at Ohio State. He and his staff, led by defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, did some good things in the first game, but there were some areas that need to be worked on as well. Let’s break it down.

Defensive Line

The Good: Austin Peay clearly wanted to run and run often. The Governors didn’t always have tons of success ripping off big yardage, as they only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Defensive end Bryan Wright also came down with an interception and had a half a tackle for a loss, just like defensive tackle Cortez Broughton. Kevin Mouhon got off to a decent start as well, recording a tackle for loss and six total stops.

The Bad: Even if their final yards per carry average was a smidgen below pedestrian, the Governors were still able to push the Bearcats’ defensive line around a bit too often. Spearheaded by quarterback JaVaughn Craig, they ran up 224 yards on 60 attempts. In addition, the defensive line did not record a sack and only had the two TFLs.

Final Grade: C+

Linebackers

The Good: Freeman, a former linebacker who is also serving as coach for the group along with DC responsibilities, clearly wants the defense to be built on strong play from this area. He got just that in the opener, as Perry Young, Tyrell Gilbert, Jaylyin Minor and Joel Dublanko all had strong games. Young was all over the field, finishing with 17 tackles, including three for loss, along with a forced fumble and a pass breakup. Dublanko, a former four-star recruit and a standout on the scout team last year, had five stops, including 1.5 for loss. Gilbert and Minor each brought the pain, with Minor registering 10 tackles and Gilbert recording the only sack of the game for either team.

The Bad: There isn’t a whole lot to be upset with here, as the Bearcats generally clamped down on the second level, allowing just one run of more than 20 yards and eight of more than 10. That second number could have and should have been lower, if you want to nitpick.

Final Grade: A

Secondary

The Good: Since the Governors didn’t pass very often, there wasn’t as much work to go around for the secondary, but Malik Clements still found plenty. He ended up with a game-high 18 tackles. Linden Stephens made six tackles, helping on one for a loss. Austin Peay only completed 9-of-19 pass attempts and did not have a single completion go for more than 20 yards.

The Bad: Again, not much to complain about, but mainly because the Governors just didn’t throw very often.

Final Grade: B+

Overall

With the linebackers playing well and the secondary not tested often, the defense did a good job of limiting the Governors. It wasn’t the defense’s fault the offense couldn’t make the game an easier one. The Bearcats only allowed 313 yards of total offense and a 3-of-16 success rate on third down. In addition, they deserve to be commended because they were on the field a whole lot, with Austin Peay racking up more than 37 minutes in time of possession. Aside from some weakness on the defensive line against the run, this was a pretty strong effort.

Final Grade: B+