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Grading the Defense: Week Eight

The Bearcats played great defense for nearly 60 (plus) minutes, but those few moments when they didn’t loomed large.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Temple Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Things started poorly and ended poorly for the Cincinnati Bearcats and their defense on Saturday against Temple. The Owls got out to a 10-0 lead before the halfway point of the first quarter, then were largely quiet before scoring 14 unanswered points across the end of the fourth quarter and overtime.

However, between those two disappointing bookends, the Bearcats generally maintained their defensive success. Allowing only 317 yards of total offense should usually yield a win, except Temple’s defense matched the Bearcats at every turn and that meant one team was going to leave Lincoln Financial Field wondering what could have been. For now, here’s what was both good and bad about UC’s defensive effort in week eight.

Defensive Line

The Good: There was very little room for Temple’s rushers to move and that’s thanks in large part to the guys up front. The Owls were limited to only 80 yards and 2.7 per carry. Obviously not having starting running back Ryquell Armstead in the game hurt, but Temple was smothered when it tried to run. Cortez Broughton was once again the standout defensive lineman for the Bearcats, as he recorded 2.0 tackles for loss,. Not to be forgotten, Kimoni Fitz added a stop for loss of his own.

The Bad: While the Bearcats kept Temple’s running game stopped in its tracks over and over again, they failed to get enough pressure on the guy throwing the ball. Anthony Russo was not sacked once on Saturday and there was also not a single quarterback hit recorded by UC. There was still strong passing defense to be had, but more pressure would have gone a long way in keeping the Owls from rallying.

Of course, the worst play of the game from the defense was not a missed tackle or a lack of stops behind the line. It was a late hit from Michael Pitts in the second quarter that led to a targeting call, an unsportsmanlike conduct flag and his ejection from the game.

Final Grade: C+

Linebackers

The Good: Several linebackers made more than a few plays for the Bearcats. Bryan Wright matched Broughton and had two tackles for loss and four stops overall. Perry Young and Malik Clements were both extremely active as well, producing 17 tackles combined (nine and eight, respectively), including a half tackle for loss each.

The Bad: Depth at the position was rather limited this week, at least in terms of production. Jarell White and Joel Dublanko each had a single tackle, but that was pretty much it. When Wright, Young and Clements are all playing as well as they did for most of the game, that type of work can suffice, but it would be good to see the entire unit succeed.

Final Grade: B+

Secondary

The Good: The Bearcats really gave Russo a lot of trouble in terms of pass defense. Yes, they did not sack him at all, but they still made his day more difficult than it could have been. UC had a total of 11 passes defended and three interceptions as a team. Cornerback Coby Bryant was the biggest playmaker, catching not one but two picks and recording a team-high three pass breakups. Tyrell Gilbert had the other pick and two passes defended. Meanwhile, safety James Wiggins led the team with 10 tackles and cornerback Cam Jefferies had five stops, including one for loss.

The Bad: The way the Bearcats lost is particularly devastating because of how it happened. UC’s pass defense was solid all game, but it just made two crucial mistakes at the worst possible times. Russo threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Branden Mack to tie the game up near the end of regulation. Then, on a third-and-10 in overtime, Isaiah Wright ran right up the seam and caught a 25-yard touchdown pass. UC’s secondary was burned on both plays and even though those were just two moments, they were the two moments that will be remembered.

Wiggins also made things tough early on when he lost a fumble on a first quarter kickoff which led to a Temple touchdown.

Final Grade: C+

Overall

These grades may seem harsh. If UC held on to win, this would be a very different article. After all, the Bearcats only allowed 317 yards of total offense. They held Temple to a 4-for-17 success rate on third down. They even forced three turnovers. There were really only a few plays that stuck out as especially bad. However, those few plays were a big reason UC lost. Yes, the offense did not do nearly enough to support it, but the defense’s shortcomings can’t be overlooked.

Final Grade: B-