Deconstructing the Cincinnati Defense

Deconstructing the Cincinnati Defense

Cincinnati Bearcats

Deconstructing the Cincinnati Defense

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The Cincinnati defense has been a sore point for the team the past couple of seasons. This season, while the finger has been pointed more at the offense, the defense has also broken down. How well is the bend but don’t break working? Is the Cincinnati defense bad? Or are they just misunderstood?

To find out, I broke down the last 15 games against FBS foes, throwing out Indiana State and SW Missouri St. I’ve decided to divide things up into 4 groups. The first is the last 3 games, which is this season, the last 5 games, which includes the last 2 game of last season, and so on. I know that teams change and coaches changed and all that stuff, but we are comparing god dammit, so shut your mouth.

Points Allowed

Last 3 games: 89 (29.6)
Last 5 games: 184 (36.8)
Last 10 games: 303 (30.3)
Last 15 games: 386 (25.7)

As you can see, the Cincinnati defense has been pretty substandard ever since the UConn game a year ago. The Huskies must have unlocked something in the Bearcats system that is still being abused to this day. But what exactly? The Huskies are known for their rushing attack, so let’s look at the rushing yards.

Rushing Yards Allowed

Last 3 games: 289 (96)
Last 5 games: 659 (131.8)
Last 10 games: 1,462 (146.2)
Last 15 games: 2,104 (142.2)

Obviously the number one thing that the Bearcats coaching staff worked on this season was run defense. The unit last season was unbelievably awful stopping the run. As you can see, 35 yards in two games is a dramatic increase. This season, the Bearcats are 16th in the nation against the run. The Bearcats should see the number go down, they held Miami to 30 yards rushing last season. Let’s check yards per carry and attempts to dig more.

Rushing Yards Per Carry (Attempts in parenthesis)

Last 3 games: 2.65 (109)
Last 5 games: 3.48 (189)
Last 10 games: 3.78 (386)
Last 15 games: 3.6 (583)

Not gonna lie, I did this one just to point out how well the run defense has been performing this season. Last year UC gave up 3.8 yards a carry, which is unbelievably awful. Fun note, Fresno ran the ball 27 fewer times this season. Well, if the problem isn’t running this season, is it passing? Passing Yards Allowed Last 3 games: 950 (316.7) Last 5 games: 1,608 (321.6) Last 10 games: 2,691 (269.1) Last 15 games: 3,821 (254.7) That answers some questions. The Florida explosion threw last year’s totals out of whack, but they are still ballooned by the performance this season. This, like the run total, shows that the defensive philosophy has changed. Curious, I added up the run and pass numbers from the 2008 season (minus EKU). They are: Run: 1,562 (120) Pass: 2,750 (211.5) Seems like the BK regime was more focused on not giving up big pass plays, while the BJ group (couldn’t say staff or unit there) is more keen on stopping the run. Let’s take a look at the yards per attempt, and yards per completion.

Passing Yards Per Attempt

Last 3 games: 8.26 (115)
Last 5 games: 9.3 (172)
Last 10 games: 8.48 (317)
Last 15 games: 7.5 (507)
Passing Yards Per Completion
Last 3 games: 11.87 (80)
Last 5 games: 12.95 (124)
Last 10 games: 12.5 (215)
Last 15 games: 11.5 (331)
The big thing that sticks out is in my pants, but it’s also the passing yards in the Florida game. Florida averaged 13 yards a pass, hit 31-36 and had 482 yards. It’s also very interesting to note that the UC pass defense hasn’t been beaten that badly. They rank higher than the defense did last season however. Cincinnati has given up as many 300 yard passing performances this season as the last. In fact, let’s list them so you can see.
  1. Florida 482 – 09
  2. Oklahoma 370 -10
  3. NC State 333 – 10
  4. Illinois 307 – 09
  5. Miami 286 – 09
  6. Connecticut 261 – 09
  7. Fresno State 247 – 10
  8. Rutgers 243 – 09
  9. Oregon State 240 – 09
  10. South Florida 208 – 09
  11. West Virginia 188 – 09
  12. Syracuse 182 – 09
  13. Pittsburgh 176 – 09
  14. Fresno State 153 – 09
  15. Louisville 145 – 09

If you really care, Indiana St had 161. Let’s do this for the rushing performances, so everyone can see.

Rushing
  1. Fresno State 290 – 09
  2. West Virginia 202 – 09
  3. Connecticut 201 – 09
  4. Pittsburgh 193 – 09
  5. Florida 177 – 09
  6. Illinois 169 – 09
  7. South Florida 168 – 09
  8. North Carolina St 158 – 10
  9. Louisville 130 – 09
  10. Oregon State 104 -09
  11. Syracuse 101 – 09
  12. Oklahoma 82 -10
  13. Rutgers 50 – 09
  14. Fresno State 49 – 10
  15. Miami 30 – 09

This season has had 2 of the worst 4 rushing performances, while giving up 2 of the 3 worst passing performances. Let’s look at the scoreboard to see how many of those yards converted into points.

 

Rushing TDs
Last 3 games: 3
Last 5 games: 11
Last 10 games: 17
Last 15 games: 22
Passing TDs
Last 3 games: 9
Last 5 games: 14
Last 10 games: 21
Last 15 games: 25
The game plan has been to throw on the Bearcats for scores. For kicks, let’s compare the yards of the top 15 rushers and top 15 receivers.
We start with rushers.
  1. Lewis 194 PITT – 09 (47 carries!!! Maybe this is why he sucks this season)
  2. Todman 162 UConn – 09
  3. Matthews 145 FS – 09
  4. Devine 88 WV – 09
  5. Greene NCST 83 – 10
  6. Gillislee 78 UF – 09
  7. Miller 77 FS – 09
  8. Daniels 74 USF – 09
  9. Rodgers 73 OSU – 09
  10. Murray 67 OU – 10
  11. Williams 67 ILL – 09
  12. Ashley 67 UL – 09
  13. James Rodgers 67 OSU – 09
  14. Clarke 60 WVU – 09
  15. Anderson 56 UL – 09

The run defense last season gave up a very balanced amount of yards to all rushers. Three pairs of teammates on that list. Only two players from this season on the list.

 

Receiving
  1. Cooper 181 UF – 09
  2. Baldwin 113 PITT – 09
  3. Williams 111 NCST – 10
  4. Hernandez 111 UF – 09
  5. Sanu 101 RU – 09
  6. Broyles 100 OU – 10
  7. Robinson 100 MU – 09
  8. Duvalt 94 ILL – 09
  9. Rodgers 90 OSU – 09
  10. Bratton 90 MU – 09
  11. Easley 87 UCONN – 09
  12. Brown 86 RU – 09
  13. Moore 77 UCONN – 09
  14. Stills 72 OU – 10
  15. Evans 71 FS – 10

Already 4 of the top 15 performances are from this season. The Cats are going to see Robinson, Sanu and Baldwin again this season. 7 100 yard receivers compared to 3 100 yard rushers. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. That leads to this, with the big play makers, how many big plays have the Bearcats given up? I qualify big plays as plays of over 20 yards. We will break them down by game, using the ESPN boxscores.

Fresno State 10: 4 passing – 3 for TD 
NC State: 5. 4 passing – 1 run for TD 
OU: 6 all passing
Florida: 8 all passing – 1 TD
Pitt: 3 all passing – 1 TD
Illinois: 5 all passing – 1 TD
WV: 4, 2 passing, 2 running. 1 TD rush.
UConn: 5, 3 passing, 1 rush TD, 1 return TD
Syra: 1 passing
UL: 2, 1 passing, 1 rushing.
USF: 5, 3 rushing, 2 passing- 1 TD
MU: 1 passing
FSU 09: 4, 3 passing -1 TD, 1 rushing
OSU: 1 rush
RU: 1 pass

The big plays have been really hurting the defense. If I had access to all the game film, I could break down what the opponent did in blown coverages, like the Broyles TD from Saturday night. Those don’t go down as big plays.
One thing the big plays set up are red zone opportunities. Let’s take a look and see how the Bearcats defense has faired letting people into the red zone, and what they’ve done while there.
Fresno State: 3 red zone trips, 2 TDs. The first half ended with the ball in the red zone
NC State: 5 trips, 3 TDs, 1 FG. The errant chance was the tipped catch fumble play
Oklahoma: 4 trips, 4 TDs. That’s 10 scores in 12 trips, adding up to 65 points.
Including Indiana State, that number goes to 11-15, 72 points. The 65 points means that 73% of points scored on Cincinnati have occurred in the red zone.  Last season, foes were in the red zone 41 times, scoring 36 times, 30 TDs, 6 FGs. UC forced 3 turnovers. 225 of the 297 points they gave up (remember we dropped FCS opponents) were in the red zone, accounting for 75% of the points. I’m not sure what this all means exactly, but I’m pretty sure it’s bad when you give up 27% of your points from outside the 20 yard line. Finally, let’s break down the sacks, turnovers and third down conversions.
The Bearcats have 8 sacks on the season, 6 when you adjust for ISU. Cincinnati had 36 sacks in FBS games a season ago, so the pace is exactly the same if they get 2 a game the next 8 games. Or 9 games if you count a bowl.
Turnover wise, Cincinnati has only forced 4 turnovers against FBS schools, while turning the ball over 6 times. The totals for the season are Cincinnati 8, opponents 5, which only highlights the offensive and special team struggles. Out of the turnovers, the Bearcats have 2 fumble recoveries against NC State, and an interception against Fresno and one against OU. That’s not going to cut it.
Third downs have been a Cincinnati struggle this season. Overall, UC has given up 36% of conversions. What’s disarming about this is when the conversions have come.
1 Q: 7-16, 43%
2 Q: 5-15 33%
3 Q: 6-14 42.9%
4 Q: 4-15 27%
We are counting ISU in this one just to make things even. The first 30 third downs the Cats faced, they allowed only 9 to be converted, 3 to Fresno, 6 to ISU. The last 30, they’ve allowed 13 to be converted, 8/18 by OU, which is a bad 43%. That includes running out the clock scenarios against the Wolfpack and Sooners. Based on the numbers we’ve seen so far, the Bearcats are going to have an interesting season. The offenses so far in the Big East are more like Fresno than NC State or Oklahoma. The Bearcats, however, have shown an affinity for giving up the big play. It should be a wild ride.
I think the biggest problem with the defense is something announcers brought up during the game. I think that the recruiting has been hurt by the constant changing of coaches. UC has had 3 coaches the past 5 seasons, which damages stable recruiting. Who knows how many recruits UC lost when Dantonio left? Who knows how many left this past offseason when BK left? I don’t mean just people in the class for this year, but the class for next as well. If you were a junior last season and wanted to play for BK next year, your interest in Cincinnati fell off the map. If you thought UC would tank now that Kelly left, even if you weren’t interested in playing for Kelly, you probably scratched them off your list. The Bearcats have some good talent on defense. Dan Giordano has been great, Derek Wolfe is a stud, Reuben Johnson has been the star of the secondardy, Maalik Bomar and JK Schaffer have anchored the linebackers. JK especially is everywhere on defense. The problem lies in some inexperience. Walter Stewart and Bomar aren’t very good in coverage. Wes Richardson is great at the run at his safety spot, but he gets burnt a lot. Drew Frey and Pat Lambert are solid, but nothing special. Dominque Battle has struggled with injury, and Cam Cheatham has been good as a replacement.
The Bearcats defense has been at times a strong point, and a weakness. As the Patton Oswalt cd says, our weakness has to be our strength. If the Bearcats are going to win the Big East, they are going to have to do more than try and get in shootouts. I have a feeling things are going to look up for this unit. One thing is for sure, it’s definitely not last year.

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