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Grading the Defense: Week Four

Cincinnati’s defense struggled for the first time this season, but managed to come up big when it mattered most.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Cincinnati David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Even the best defenses can be roughed up sometimes. The Cincinnati Bearcats suffocated the first three offenses they were matched up with this season, but the Ohio Bobcats didn’t go down so easily. Led by a mobile quarterback in Nathan Rourke and with talent skill position players like wide receiver Papi White, the Bobcats were the most effective team against the Bearcats of any opponent this season.

The success they had wasn’t enough. The UC defense may not have started things well, but it sure did finish it on a high note. Now let’s take a position-by-position look at how the unit performed.

Defensive Line

The Good: Cortez Broughton and Marquise Copeland were both extremely active, with both chasing down ball carriers and making tackles both at, behind and beyond the line of scrimmage. Broughton was the only defender who seemed ready to face Rourke, as he got to him more than once and recorded the only sack of the game for UC. He had two tackles for loss and also an additional quarterback hit. Copeland finished with seven stops, including one for loss. Kimoni Fitz also managed eight tackles.

The Bad: Fitz made a costly mistake in the first quarter, as he was flagged for a roughing the punter penalty. The Bearcats had forced a second-straight three-and-out to start the game, but the penalty extended the drive and the Bobcats got a spark, eventually scoring a touchdown en route to a 21-0 lead. Broughton also got tagged with a roughing the passer flag.

Outside of penalties, the defensive line did not do a good job of containing Rourke, who rushed for 96 yards and was only sacked once. Ohio also accumulated 234 rushing yards, with A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons adding offensive punch at running back.

Final Grade: C-

Linebackers

The Good: Jarell White’s tackle for loss on second-and-goal during Ohio’s final drive was incredibly critical. White tied for a team-high of nine tackles with fellow linebacker Bryan Wright. Malik Clements added eight stops of his own.

The Bad: Poor tackling was an epidemic for the Bearcats, as they missed far too many, especially at the second level. White was also called for two 15-yard penalties and Wright got hit with a flag as well.

Final Grade: C

Secondary

The Good: James Wiggins’ game-winning interception was the biggest play of the game. Fellow safety Darrick Forrest also made a big play, recovering a fumble in the third quarter, which set up a UC touchdown. Forrest had seven tackles and cornerbacks Tyrell Gilbert and Coby Bryant combined for three pass breakups. In fact, UC had eight total, including another two from Cam Jefferies.

The secondary also did a great job on Papi White, who only caught two passes for 23 yards. Ohio only had 178 passing yards.

The Bad: This was not Jefferies’ day, however. He was called for three total penalties, including two that cost UC 25 yards during Ohio’s final drive. Both infractions would have been back-breaking if not for White and Wiggins’ big plays at the goal line.

Papi White may not have played all that well, but Cameron Odom had 114 yards on five receptions.

Final Grade: C-

Overall

Just like the whole team, the defense started extremely poorly and then turned things around. The Bearcats allowed 132 yards in the first quarter, but then settled down and allowed 280 the rest of the way. Obviously the huge goal-line stand was the highlight of the afternoon, but the struggles against the run and with finishing tackles was uncharacteristic and concerning to watch.

What were good to see were the clutch plays, which carried through most of the game, as Ohio went just 6-for-16 on third down and scored touchdowns on only half of their red zone trips (3-of-6).

Now that UC has traversed all of the non-conference schedule, it is no longer a top 20 defense, ranking 45th nationally in defensive S&P+, but this unit makes the plays it needs to when the chips are down.

Final Grade: C+