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Grading the Defense: Week Two

Even if you want to make excuses because of the weather, it’s impossible to completely dismiss UC’s defensive dominance against Miami-Ohio.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The defense has arrived. Even if two games — including one definitely affected by rain — isn’t supposed to be a big enough sample size to make any sweeping statements, the Cincinnati Bearcats have just played too well during these first couple contests to not feel good about what the defense is doing. In the Battle for the Victory Bell this past Saturday, the Bearcats dominated for 60 minutes, standing their ground in a squall. Let’s get into more of the details.

Defensive Line

The Good: Where was this Cortez Broughton a year ago? After his second-team all-conference campaign in 2016, he regressed so much in 2017 that it appeared he was going to graduate before living up to his potential. Those worries were washed away (literally) once more this past weekend as he accumulated 2.0 tackles for loss (five total). But Broughton didn’t just do that, he also forced a fumble and showed that trying to sneak a short pass over his head won’t work, as he had as many passes defended as starting cornerback Coby Bryant. Marquise Copeland had a solid game on the line as well, accumulating six tackles, which tied for a team-high and gives him a UC-best 13 for the season.

The Bad: What the Bearcats did in week one in terms of rushing the passer wasn’t sustainable for the long haul. If they recorded five sacks every week then they’d be setting records. Still, it was surprising to see the unit slow Miami so much without getting one. That’s not to say they didn’t get to Gus Ragland. Kimoni Fitz had two quarterback hits from the end and Malik Vann and Broughton each had one as well. If there was one particularly bad play in the game, it was when Copeland was called for a facemask penalty.

Final Grade: B+

Linebackers

The Good: Perry Young returned to his rightful spot atop the tackles list. He tied for the most stops by a Bearcat with Copeland and also contributed one tackle for loss. It is actually pretty impressive that UC played so well defensively against UCLA when Young didn’t make as big an impact (four tackles). Jarell White also helped on a tackle for loss and the UC defense held Miami’s running game to an average of 3.1 yards per carry. That’s something the whole defense should take pride in.

The Bad: Bryan Wright did not replicate his strong game against UCLA, finishing with only two solo tackles. Malik Clements had a similar game, which wasn’t bad but didn’t stand out either.

Final Grade: B

Secondary

The Good: Somehow the Bearcats have a safety tandem that would make any team envious. James Wiggins is making plays all over the place, adding four tackles, including one for loss, after his big interception against the Bruins. Darrick Forrest was the safety who snagged a pick this week, and it was an important one. UC only led 7-0 when Forrest stepped in front of a Ragland pass and returned it 23 yards to the Miami one-yard line. Michael Warren scored on a one-yard rush a play later and that 14-0 spread was far too large for the RedHawks to recover. On the corners, Bryant and Tyrell Gilbert were solid enough, especially Gilbert, who had three passes defended and really kept Miami’s talented wideout James Gardner from taking over.

The Bad: Gilbert was flagged for a holding penalty, but on special teams. It would be interesting to see how the secondary would deal with Ragland and Gardner on a dry day.

Final Grade: A

Overall

There’s no denying that the adverse weather conditions aided the Bearcats’ defense considerably. But even if there wasn’t rain pouring down, this unit was built to defend at an elite level. The Bearcats held Miami to 139 passing yards after it had 357 in the previous week. They also limited the RedHawks to 198 total yards, 3.3 yards per play, 11 first downs and not a single red zone attempt. After two weeks, the Bearcats are ranked 16th in the country in defensive S&P+ and they could very well stay in that neighborhood all season.

Final Grade: A