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Opponent Breakdown: Cincinnati Bearcats Defense

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Navy at Cincinnati Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cincinnati football has been known as a blue-collar program for a while now and that has definitely been the case over the last few years. Luke Fickell always brought his defense and I fully expect Kerry Coombs to do the same as the interim head coach. The Bearcats handled most offenses this year with ease but they had some moments where they gave up explosive touchdowns. Coombs will likely bring an aggressive plan to the bowl game.

Cincy has great size up front with former Virginia standout Jowon Briggs manning the middle of the defensive line. Briggs surprised many when he transferred from UVA but Cincy is where he is from and he made the call to go back home. The 6-1/313 senior will be a handful for the offensive line.

Eric Phillips and Jabari Taylor man the defensive end spots and both have had solid seasons. UC doesn’t have a lot of length up front but all of these guys have good size and they have shown good quickness in the games that I’ve watched. Dontay Corleone is also a very nice player that has shown up in these games. He backs up Briggs on the inside.

The key to the defense is All-American Ivan Pace Jr. at the linebacker spot. Cincy runs a 3-3-5 look and Pace is in the thick of it on every play. He finished the regular season with 120 tackles, 19.5 for loss, and 9 sacks. The production is one thing but Pace is the most athletic and twitchy player on the field when you watch Cincy’s defense. He is just so quick with his movements and so active. Where I’ve seen teams have some success is when they have run misdirection as Pace can get out of position due to being so aggressive. Hopefully, UofL can find some success there.

UC plays a group of guys at linebacker but Jaheim Thomas is the player that stood out to me. He is a former high-level recruit that you can’t miss when you watch the games. He is 6-4/245 and he can run. With the defensive line eating up blocks, it works well for UC to have linebackers who can fit gaps and not be pushed around. One thing that has been noticeable in some of the games I’ve watched is running backs getting to the edge and finding space to run.

The Bearcat secondary lost two of the best corners in the entire country from last year’s team but they were able to hold their own without them. Unfortunately, Ja’quan Sheppard has opted out of the bowl and has transferred to Maryland for his final year. JQ Hardaway also hit the portal, so I’m not totally sure who UC will play at this spot.

Ja’Von Hicks and Arquan Bush are two of the better playmakers in the back end. Byron Threats also has two interceptions on the year. This group seems to be more solid in the scheme as opposed to being the outstanding talents Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant were last season. Overall, the secondary has some experience to work with but being down two guys can’t be helpful.