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Grading the Defense Week 13

East Carolina had been able to throw the ball fairly effectively most of the year. That didn’t happen against the Bearcats.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

For obvious reasons, the Cincinnati Bearcats’ offense was given a whole lot of credit for the team’s 56-6 dismantling of the East Carolina Pirates on Friday. That’s what 56 points and 641 yards of total offense will do for you.

Despite the offense getting the limelight, the defense also played exceptionally well, as evidenced by the total of six points the Pirates were able to put together. It was not the first time the defense has been exceptional and its why it has almost become boring discussing just how good UC’s defense is. Almost.

There are still plenty of reasons to praise the unit and we are chock full of them this week so let’s get to it.

Defensive Line

The Good: There was playing time for just about everyone on the unit, so there weren’t the usual gaudy numbers by just a few guys. Players like sophomore defensive tackle Curtis Brooks (five tackles) and freshman defensive end Myjai Sanders (tackles) made major impacts despite being rarely used contributors during the first 11 games of the year.

That’s not to say there weren’t just a few stat lines that jumped off the page. Senior defensive tackle Marquise Copeland had his best game of the year, recording two sacks in the first quarter alone. Copeland has had a solid, but not exceptional year, recording 7.0 tackles for loss and 43 stops overall. This was a fantastic way to close things out before bowl season.

Sophomore defensive end Ethan Tucky has been a reliable rotational figure on the defensive line all season and he added a tackle for loss, as did the versatile Michael Pitts, who tied for second on the team with four total stops.

The Bad: Even on a slow day by his standards, Cortez Broughton still had two tackles and a quarterback hit. If that’s the worst thing the defensive line did, then there are no points to be deducted.

Final Grade: A

Linebackers

The Good: Just like on the defensive line, this was a game decided so early that a lot of UC’s depth players were given a shot. Ty Sponseller created his second tackle for loss of the year with a sack (one of three on the day from the Bearcats) and Joel Dublanko added three tackles to his season total (27). Both sophomores should get more chances in the future.

As for the regulars, Jarell White had three tackles and made plays in coverage, including a pass breakup.

The Bad: There’s nothing wrong with a game when everyone gets to contribute.

Final Grade: A

Secondary

The Good: In his first career start, freshman Arquon Bush proved that he belonged. The cornerback from Euclid, Ohio caught two interceptions, recovered a fumble, broke up two passes and tallied three tackles. That’s the kind of stat sheet stuffing you’d expect from a seasoned veteran. Oh, did I mention he returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown?

Cam Jefferies would have been the standout player if not for Bush, as he added an interception, fumble recovery, two pass breakups and three tackles of his own.

Thanks to such brilliant work from Bush and Jefferies, the Bearcats held ECU, the American Athletic Conference’s most potent passing offense, to 220 yards on 10-of-28 passing.

The Bad: James Wiggins got called for a couple penalties in the third quarter. I feel like he can forgiven for that.

Final Grade: A

Overall

This could very well be the most perfect game of football the Bearcats have played all season. The offense did everything right and the defense did as well. UC absolutely grounded ECU’s passing attack, holding it to its second-lowest output of the season and far below its 304 yards per game average. The Bearcats forced turnovers, created pressure and made the field feel as if it were the size of a phone booth in critical situations, allowing conversions on only 4-of-15 third down attempts and 1-of-3 red zone trips. This defense has been exceptional all year, but it was on another level on Friday.

Final Grade: A