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UC Defense Views Thursday As Prime Opportunity

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Everyone turning on ESPN Thursday night will know Teddy Bridgewater, but UC top corner Deven Drane and the rest of the secondary hope they turn off ESPN talking about the Bearcats pass defense. 

CINCINNATI -- Listening to the question describing the accolades of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Deven Drane's knowing nod tells the whole story. 

The soft bob of the head accompanied by extended blinks can only come from a cornerback whose spent his years at UC hearing echoes of NFL potential of the Cardinals first-round prospect. 

The nod suggests he saw Bridgewater ranks fifth in the country and first in the conference in pass efficiency. 

The nod means he's seen each of the 48 passes completed by Bridgewater for 20 yards or more, the 71 percent completions, the 25 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. 

The nod means he's seen the Sports Illustrated Mock Draft placing him as the top overall pick and #TankForTeddy slogans filtrating the NFL rumor mills. 

More than any of those, the nod also moves with a splash of swagger. Drane knows the level of prestige Bridgewater will bring into Nippert Stadium on Thursday night. And he can't wait to knock him down a peg. 

"He's a great player," Drane said. "Great athlete. Got great receivers. There's not much I can say to take away what he has done. He's a good player, you got to give credit where credit is due. But, I mean, I think we're a good secondary. So, I think it's going to be a good competition. I am looking forward to it."

The confidence of the secondary and defense are understandable. They enter with the No. 8 ranked overall defense in the country and top 25 in pass defense. Only a 400-yard passing day by Garrett Gilbert of SMU separate a streak of six straight games holding a quarterback below 58 percent completions. 

They've intercepted seven passes the last six games, but those opportunities won't fall into the lap of the secondary this week. That's not how Bridgewater operates. 

Tommy Tuberville compared Bridgewater to Robert Griffin III on Tuesday. Neither were recruited as superstar quarterbacks coming out of high school. The scouts claimed Bridgewater couldn't push the ball down the field effectively. 

"He proved everybody wrong," Tuberville said. 

With great players come great opportunity. Though Bridgewater owns rare skills, the preparation in the secondary doesn't alter. 

That goes especially for Drane who enters with NFL hopes of his own. He's already picked off three passes for 85 return yards this year and a total of eight in the past three seasons. 

Respect exists toward their opponent this week, but don't expect any special treatment. 

"I am not going to treat anybody differently because I am not going to put anybody higher than anybody else," Drane said. "Anything can happen on any given day so I am not going to change up what I do for a certain team. I am going to prepare like I been preparing and we are going to go out and hopefully handle business." 

Sure, an ESPN spotlight will focus on No. 5 for the Cardinals, but for a Bearcats defense used to flipping the switch of national attention, that's nothing new. In fact, for Drane, it's ideal. 

"It's been like that since I have got here," said Drane, who has two interceptions including a pick-6 in his senior season. "It's been like that before I got here. We are always looked at as the underdogs. To be honest, that's cool. I would rather be the underdog and come up victorious. It doesn't matter, we are always counted out then we always tend to shock the world. They want to put them on a higher pedestal then let them do it, it's cool. 

If Drane and company do to Bridgewater what they've done to nearly every QB in their path this season, they sap a slice of notoriety and open another opportunity to draw attention to their play in a significant bowl game. 

All of that is at the fingertips of finding a way to slow a potential No. 1 overall draft pick. Go ahead and remind Deven Drane. Don't expect fear. He'll offer you the confident nod. 

I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or suggestions about UC athletics to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

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