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Grading the Defense: Week 12

Against the American Athletic Conference’s best offense, the Bearcats did what they could. That just wasn’t enough.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Central Florida Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The best competitors always challenge themselves. The Cincinnati Bearcats want to be considered one of the best competitors in the American Athletic Conference, so they must have been thrilled to take on the UCF Knights and their nearly unstoppable offense this past weekend.

For UC, the game represented a chance to prove that its top 20 defense was up to the task of slowing down a UCF team averaging more than 500 yards of offense per game. While the Bearcats did have some minor success, it was ultimately a humbling experience, as the Knights rolled their way to a 25-point victory. To finally put the disappointment to bed, its time to grade the defense; then we can all move on.

Defenisve Line

The Good: The whole country got its introduction to the Bearcats’ top notch defensive line on Saturday. In front of a packed stadium and all the viewers across the country, the Bearcats came out strong and let the world know this is an elite unit. Kimoni Fitz recovered a fumble for a touchdown at the beginning of the first quarter and Cortez Broughton followed that with a sack on UCF’s next possession. Fitz finished with five tackles and a sack and Broughton managed to break-up a pass.

The Bad: The pace they set was not sustainable, unfortunately, even if Fitz had a pretty nice game overall. Broughton did not have another tackle all game and missed some time with an injury. Marquise Copeland and Michael Pitts were both pretty quiet, although the line did at least keep UCF’s run game at bay for a large stretch of the contest.

Final Grade: B-

Linebackers

The Good: That fumble that Fitz recovered was created by a strip sack from Malik Clements, who had two total tackles for loss and helped lead the charge for a largely active and aggressive linebacking corps. Jarell White paced the team with 11 tackles, including one for loss and Bryan Wright had four stops of his own.

The Bad: While the Bearcats’ dedication to stopping the run paid dividends, they did not have as much of an answer for UCF’s passing game, especially when the running backs got involved. White was burned on a 17-yard touchdown pass to UCF’s Adrian Killins in an epic mismatch. White is great at stopping the run and pressing quarterbacks, but he had no chance at covering the blindingly fast Killins. Plays like that happened throughout the game and were back-breaking.

Final Grade: C

Secondary

The Good: James Wiggins showed up on the big stage, which is hopefully something he will get to do a lot in the next few seasons. UC’s star safety was second on the team with six tackles, which he paired with a pass breakup. Darrick Forrest supported the run defense at safety with four tackles.

The Bad: The Bearcats sold out to stop the run, but that left the secondary to pay the bill. Despite not picking up a single yard through the air in the fourth quarter, the Knights somehow finished with 268 passing yards. That’s the type of talent McKenzie Milton has at quarterback and the depth of skill he has to work with in terms of pass-catchers. On only 13 completions, Milton tallied all those yards and three touchdown passes. Making matters worse was an injury to starting cornerback Tyrell Gilbert.

Final Grade: D+

Overall

If the only number you looked at from this game was UCF’s yardage total, you’d think the Bearcats actually succeeded. The Knights only had 402 total yards after all, and for much of the night, they couldn’t get the run game going. However, that is a very deceptive number. It doesn’t provide the context of 38 points scored, 6.6 yards per play and essentially an entire quarter when the Knights were just figuring out their celebration plans for after the game. The Bearcats have made great strides on defense, but they still have work to do.

Final Grade: C-