The Cincinnati Bearcats are going to a bowl game! Unfortunately, they won’t be playing until Dec. 31. That means we’ve got to do something to pass the time. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Military Bowl between the Bearcats and Virginia Tech Hokies, we’ll be breaking down the matchup position by position. Today we’ll be looking at the linebackers for each side.
Like the Bearcats, the Hokies don’t run a traditional defensive scheme. As we discussed when examining the secondaries for each team, the Hokies’ lineup features some hybrid style positions like WHIP and ROVER. The WHIP role seems most likely to be a linebacker/defensive back combination. That role is held down by redshirt sophomore Khalil Adler, who we covered in the secondary preview. While those unique posts are there, the Hokies also have linebackers playing in more traditional roles.
Starting at middle linebacker is Rayshard Ashby, a sophomore from Chesterfield, Virginia. Ashby is the best tackler on the roster, having accumulated an even 100 stops in 2018. That includes a team-high 55 solo tackles and an impressive 9.5 tackles for loss. Ashby was an honorable mention all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection and made plays on the ball pretty effectively, with two passes defended and a pair of forced fumbles.
At outside linebacker, the Hokies lean on freshman Dax Hollifield. He ranks fourth on the team in total tackles (59), although he has been more important as a supplementary contributor, with only 26 solo stops. Like Ashby, he is adept at getting into the backfield and disrupting plays, with 8.0 tackles for loss as well as a pair of sacks. When Hollifield is given a break, the Hokies are in good hands since sophomore Dylan Rivers (33 tackles, 1.5 sacks) is an effective outside linebacker as well.
The Bearcats bulk up a bit more at linebacker, running out guys at strong-side, weak-side, middle and in the defensive end/linebacker hybrid JACK position. Fortunately for them, they have the personnel to succeed with such a lineup.
Starting on the strong-side, the Bearcats start Malik Clements, a converted defensive back who has taken to a linebacking post well. Clements tied with fellow linebacker Jarell White for the most tackles on the team this year (53) while producing 6.0 stops for loss and 2.0 sacks. His history in the secondary also made him a solid defender in coverage, as he tallied four passes defended.
White lines up on the weak-side for the Bearcats. The sophomore has built nicely on a promising freshman campaign. In addition to his team-high tackle total, he produced 5.0 tackles for loss and an interception. While he failed to get a sack, he was still decent at pass rushing, with two quarterback hits.
In the middle of the defense, Bryan Wright roams the field. A converted defensive lineman, Wright has been, pardon the pun, right at home as a linebacker. He tied for second on the team in sacks (4.5) and also had six quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss this season.
Of course, the Bearcats lost perhaps their best linebacker in early November when all-American Athletic Conference first-team defender Perry Young tore his ACL. Despite that, guys like Joel Dublanko, Ty Sponseller and R.J. Potts provide depth.
Advantage: Virginia Tech