Bearcats Nation vs. ESPN Big East Blog Finale

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The long and tenuous regular season has drawn to a close. The Cincinnati Bearcats faced their share of adversity throughout this year with the loss of starting quarterback Zach Collaros and watching a two game lead in the Big East standings evaporate. But the one unit that never wavered was UC’s defensive line. A veteran unit that had been beaten down during the 2010 campaign due to lack of depth and injuries bounced back this past season in a major way. The starters were solid with Derek Wolfe and John Hughes clogging up the middle with their big 300 lbs frames and Dan Giordano grinding away on the edge. Really making an impact in the 2nd half of the season was Walter Stewart who  played with his hand on the ground permanently this year.

The performance of these defensive linemen can also be attributed to guys like Brandon Mills, Jordan Stepp, Rob Trigg and Monte Taylor who did more than just give the starters a much need breather. When their number was called, they didn’t miss a beat. These four accounted for 90 tackles, 16 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles. Those are some pretty solid numbers from guys labelled as backups.

And it’s for those reasons (veteran starters, added depth) why I had initially bet Andrea Adelson of ESPN’s Big East Blog way back in the Summer when I was writing for Down the Drive. If you haven’t been following the series to date, let me get you caught up. In Andrea’s Big East preseason defensive line position rankings she released in July, it pegged Cincinnati’s DL as 7th best in the conference only better than Rutgers. An exchange of words via Twitter ensued that ended with us putting our money where are mouth’s are (so to speak). Andrea never indicated what she wanted upon victory but if I won we would engage in a Q & A debate sometime at the end of the season.

First of all, I can’t help but thank Andrea for being such a good sport for sticking to our bet the entire year. It was her first season at the helm of ESPN’s Big East blog after Brian Bennett moved on and she had a lot on her plate catching up to the goings on in the conference. It was big of her to take time out of her probably crazy days to make a bet with a humble Cincinnati Bearcats fan such as myself. I will always appreciate her for that.

Second of all, BOOM! #Numbered:

Alex Pace
Height - Weight6'2" 284 lbs
HometownCleveland, OH
High SchoolGlenville
247 Sports*** - 84
ESPN*** - 78
Clearly Cincinnati’s defensive line dominated in 2011. It was a rough go of things during out of conference play but as soon as the Bearcats started playing more familiar Big East teams, the stats from the defensive line went through the roof. Walter Stewart, who had nary a sack in the first half of the year, exploded in the Louisville game and never looked back. The same can be said of John Hughes and Rob Trigg. Derek Wolfe, Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills, and Monte Taylor were consistently menacing opposing blockers throughout the season. By the numbers, the Bearcats led the 2nd best statistical team by 59 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. That’ll win championships.

I’ve always been in the camp that games are won or lost in the trenches and the primary reason why the defense as a whole looked better in 2011 is because of the defensive line’s performance. Rush defense was among the best in the country and Cincinnati had more interceptions in 2011 (14) than they did in 2010 (8) thanks in large part to the pass rush. Not to be forgotten is the fact that there were fewer sustained injuries in 2011 primarily because the starters didn’t have to play 80-90% of the snaps. Additional depth this year meant that guys like Wolfe, Hughes, etc. weren’t banged up near the end of the season and could play at or near 100% on most plays.

Thoughts on the Rest of the Big East

– West Virginia plays that goofy 3-3-5 look with few defensive linemen and the linebackers making the same if not more of the plays than the DL. This is why, as I figured before the year began, WVU is last in the rankings. It says nothing about the Mountaineers defense as a whole however, which is still among the best in the Big East.

– Numerically, I expected more out of Syracuse and Louisville’s defensive lines who boasted pretty experienced units. But injuries to Mikhail Marinovich and Greg Scruggs respectively slowed them down.

– I think Rutgers surprised everyone with a much improved defensive unit that crept up near the top of the pack this season. But a late bye week forced them to fall to the bottom half of the Big East. Still, Greg Schiano did a great job with those players.

– Pitt and South Florida’s defensive line finished tied for 2nd in the Big East. Neither surprises me as both boast veteran units full of talent. Plus it always seems the Bulls are able to find star players to put on the DL and just will them to be great.

– UConn always seems to be great on both sides of the line. On the defensive side, Trevardo Williams and Kendall Reyes really carried that unit. They were a close 4th in the rankings but the numbers hide the fact that the Huskies had a couple of stars in their midst.

Tags: Bearcats Bearcats Football Derek Wolfe

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