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Grading the Defense: Week 11

A few big plays aside, this was another master class from the Bearcats.

South Florida v Cincinnati Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Having a defense you can really rely on is a luxury the Cincinnati Bearcats have enjoyed this season. Even when the offense is having trouble getting into a rhythm, UC always knows the defense is going to stand tall.

Against USF, the Bearcats were able to hang tough in the first half because the defense didn’t let up. When the dust settled at the end of the game, the offense had figured things out while the defense had only gotten better, with the Bulls only scoring seven points after halftime.

Just because the defense is reliable doesn’t mean the same players are making the same plays each week. Here’s how each part of the defense fared in another strong showing.

Defensive Line

The Good: At this point, there’s no question that UC has one of the best defensive lines in the American Athletic Conference. The real query should be about its standing in all of college football.

We got another exceptional performance from the guys up front this week. Kimoni Fitz really helped seal up the edge, with seven tackles (1.5 for loss) and a sack. The Bearcats had four sacks overall and the line accounted for 2.5 of them, depending on whether you consider Michael Pitts a member of the line or the linebackers.

Speaking of Pitts, his work deserves to be shared by both positional units since his JACK position is really a mix of the two. Pitts had 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups and blocked an extra point in as versatile a game as you could get from a defender.

Meanwhile, Cortez Broughton had a ho-hum game by his standards, adding 1.5 tackles for loss to his growing collection, while also managing a quarterback hit.

The Bad: If you really want to be negative, I guess Marquise Copeland only had two tackles.

Final Grade: A

Linebackers

The Good: This was supposed to be the year that Jarell White built on his breakout. Unfortunately, he has not been as excellent as expected. He showed off why his potential is still so great against USF, tallying a team-high 10 tackles, including 1.0 for loss.

Bryan Wright has been tormenting opposing offenses all season and he did it again. His 1.5 sacks gives him 4.5 for the season, which ranks second on the roster behind Broughton.

Malik Clements rose to the top of the roster in total tackles for the season (49) with six stops on Saturday. He also exhibited his defensive back roots with a pass breakup.

With the linebackers and defensive line working in concert, the Bearcats allowed only 81 rushing yards to the Bulls, including a meager 36 to Jordan Cronkrite, who is averaging 109 yards per game this season.

The Bad: I’ve got nothing.

Final Grade: A

Secondary

The Good: The Bearcats still got some good plays from the secondary, even if the pass defense wasn’t as good as the run defense. Safeties Darrick Forrest (six) and James Wiggins (four) combined for 10 tackles and cornerback Cam Jefferies had two pass breakups.

The Bad: The Bearcats had to deal with two quarterbacks and neither was Blake Barnett, as he was sidelined with an injury. Chris Oladokun and Brett Kean were not able to succeed all that much in Barnett’s absence, completing just 14-of-32 pass attempts combined. However, UC’s secondary was susceptible to a few big pass plays, allowing 232 yards and three touchdowns, including a 72-yard touchdown pass from Oladokun to Ryeshene Bronson early in the first quarter.

Final Grade: B-

Overall

Perhaps the best part of UC’s defensive effort came from the offense. By holding the ball for more than 37 minutes, the Bearcats did not give USF many chances to find offensive success. With the limited time they were given, the Bulls only secured 313 total yards. They could have done better, but the Bearcats locked up the field on third down, allowing only two conversions on 15 tries all night. So few third down conversions meant very limited scoring chances, with the Bearcats only defending in the red zone once. This was another masterful defensive showing, minus a few big pass plays.

Final Grade: A-