With his background, Luke Fickell was always going to make a team he took over rely heavily on defense. The Cincinnati Bearcats were better at defense than anything last year, but they were still pretty weak in comparison to the rest of the country. Now in their second year under Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, the Bearcats look like they are ready to start being the elite defensive unit we envisioned when Fickell was hired.
In the season opener against UCLA, the Bearcats had a real challenge in facing a Chip Kelly offense. They met that challenge and after winning 26-17, they clearly handled their business and made a statement to the rest of the country. This is a defense you should not mess with.
The Good: With returning talent to spare, the defensive line was a positional group that had a lot of potential entering this season. In week one, it definitely lived up to that. Cortez Broughton did his part, racking up 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position. With Broughton leading the way, the Bearcats had a total of five sacks, which was nearly half of their entire total from a year ago (12). The call for more pressure-packed scheming from the defense has been ringing for years, but it appears that call is finally being answered. Marquise Copeland also led the team in tackles (seven) and the safety the Bearcats scored in the fourth quarter came about because of pressure from the line.
The Bad: Angelo Howze got called for one penalty? Really the defensive line did an incredible job.
Final Grade: A+
The Good: Bryan Wright certainly took to middle linebacker well. Previously a defensive lineman, Wright was seemingly involved in every play, helping with a sack and three total tackles and plenty of support play beyond that. Malik Clements had a tackle for loss of his own and in general, the linebackers played solid football.
The Bad: Perry Young only had three tackles, but its not like he missed a bunch or something. Really, the group just put together a strong 60 minutes.
Final Grade: B+
The Good: Safety James Wiggins is legit, but you probably already knew that. Not only did he rank second on the team with six tackles, he made one incredible interception.
Coby Bryant also helped at cornerback, with five tackles and a pass breakup. As a unit, the secondary allowed a total of 162 passing yards to the Bruins.
The Bad: As with the other positional groups, the secondary really didn’t do much that hurt the cause.
Final Grade: B+
People were really excited to see a Kelly offense again. The Bearcats spoiled that, allowing only 306 total yards to the Bruins. Aside from a 74-yard touchdown run from Kazmeir Allen in the third quarter, UCLA’s run game was fairly well contained, while the aerial attack was grounded all afternoon. Theo Howard, UCLA’s star wideout, finished with only 52 yards and with all the pressure that was created, the Bruins just couldn’t get much going in the passing game.
When the chips were down in critical situations, the Bearcats came up even bigger. They held UCLA to just a 6-for-15 success rate on third down and, when Kelly got aggressive on fourth down, his team failed twice to break UC’s defense. If this is the type of production they produce all season, the Bearcats are going to be one of the nation’s best defenses.
Final Grade: A