Bearcats hang hats, wins on resiliency

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Greg Blair couldn't help but flash a knowing smile and laugh. The Bearcats leading tackler and middle linebacker knows his forced fumble Friday won't make the SportsCenter top plays.

No radio interview will want to know about what was going through his mind sending down USF for a three-yard loss.

Few headlines will boast the defensive effort on a night when all four Bearcats touchdowns were accounted for by seniors in their final night at Nippert Stadium. Perhaps, rightfully so. At the very least, unsurprising, the highlight culture where offense owns the airwaves and bandwidth hasn't changed not will it into the confernece network future.

Blair's OK with all that. He'll take the 27-10 win and knowing fundamental football truth.

"Offense sell tickets defense win games," Blair said laughing. "That's how it always is. That's how it is everywhere. That's how we go about it."

This defensive page in the book of the 2012 season should be dog-eared. While everyone will flip through exciting chapters about Ralph David Aberntathy, Munchie Legaux to Damon Julian and George Winn's soldiering through the record books, the quiet foundation of the plot line will be this forgotten defense.

Quietly, through the ups and downs, they've been the backbone of this journey to 8-3, 4-2.

USF.jpg"I think that's a great adjective when you talk about quietly because we have surrendered some yards, but very, very resilient," Butch Jones said. "We find ways to make plays at the end."

Consider UC came into Friday allowing the 47th most yards in FBS but their scoring defense ranked 15th.

They come out of Friday's suffocation of South Florida allowing just 17.2 points per game. In a season the defense has been overlooked by sexier storylines, this defense posted numbers among the best in the history of the program when it comes to the bottom line. How many points did you allow?

This season they've allowed fewer points per game than in any season since before any player on this team was born. Not quite the 1885 team that only allowed four total points, but substantial nonetheless.

A season of bending without breaking played out again Friday when 306 Bulls yards elicited only one field goal and a garbage touchdown. Between came seven punts and two turnovers. To be sure, nobody will be mistaking South Florida and their third-string quarterback for the Oregon Ducks considering the late TD marked their first trip to the end zone in 10 quarters.

That doesn't change the mark of this team all season. Whether it was the three red zone stops against Rutgers to keep the game within reach or second half shutdown of Syracuse to set the stage for Brendon Kay. Giving up yards but finding a way to make a play as much represents this team as the C-paw on the helmet.

"I do believe that's our style of play," LB Maalik Bomar said. "When things happen we think of it as another opportunity to create something. That's what it is on defense, a chance to create. What can happen next? You never know. You play hard each down. Don't take a play for granted."

Hard to take anything for granted Friday with 24 seniors playing their final game at Nippert Stadium. The rally cry during the week to snap the team out of the disappointment of losing their hopes of a Big East title against Rutgers came with Tuesday's practice. The pads were popping and the drive for win number eight took  precedence.

On Friday, the defense took it from there. The first seven drives of the game forced six punts and a fumble. Eventually UC would notch four sacks, two turnovers and allowed the one TD. The first fumble recovery set up a short field and 19 yards later UC took a 7-0 and never looked back.

There was that one late touchdown to leave just a hint of frustration in the mouth. The touchdown-free game would have felt better than a cup of hot chocolate in Shank Pavilion.

"I'm not OK with that," Blair said. "But it happened."

Most won't leave Nippert Stadium on Friday talking about a defense as unremarkable as it has been effective. They'll discuss theories for defrosting digits, Travis Kelce's emergence and the thickness of Winn's neck.

So be it. Blair, Bomar and the rest of the Bearcats will happily trade discussions for dubs. Comes with the territory.

"We all have relentless attitudes," said Blair, who notched his seventh double-digit tackle game Friday. "We play swarm to the ball, 11 hats to the ball. That's how we play every down. (Offense is) going to get all the ESPN highlights, but we all know we are all team. We all know the defense play the back seat of the offense, but we are all on the same page."

I want to hear from you. Send me your questions, comments or suggestions for avoiding frostbite when walking 200 yards to your care by sending an email to or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.

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