Sept. 17, 2009
(3:27 p.m.): Although the UC defense didn’t think much of the statistic most bandied about by preseason prognosticators – the sky is falling, they wrote and said, because the Bearcats lost 10 starters from 2008 – the defense also couldn’t afford to talk very much about the confidence it had.
First, UC had to face Rutgers and its offensive line, considered by many to be the class of the Big East. So, the Bearcats just had to wait and see how that matchup would proceed.
Only then, after UC won the battle of the line of scrimmage vs. the Scarlett Knights, could the Bearcats begin to talk about what they thought about the preseason predictions.
“When all the people were speaking about the 10 starters lost, I felt totally disrespected,” said senior defensive end Alex Daniels. “We had one starter coming back, but I felt we had 10 eager people who were sitting on the bench and ready to go to fill the roles. Now we get the opportunity to show our talent.
“We weren’t surprised (with the success), because nobody gave us a chance anyway. People thought we were going to be terrible. I thought our defense was going to be amazing because we’re faster and stronger. Every week, we have to go out and prove everybody wrong.”
Though I don’t recall anybody saying the Bearcats defense was going to be terrible, it’s easy to see his point. UC still feels a bit disrespected, and the players feel they need to show every week how they’re capable of competing. So far, it’s started with the defensive line.
With senior defensive ends Richard Matthews and Daniels leading the way with 1.5 sacks a piece (Daniels also has 10 tackles) and linebacker Curtis Young – who also is lining up on the line of scrimmage – leading the team with 13 tackles, the defensive line has created adversity for the opposing offenses so far this season.
Especially for Rutgers. Which impressed the Bearcats coaching staff, because of the discipline it took to stick to the new 3-4 defensive scheme.
“It’s chemistry,” Matthews said. “We have two seniors who are defensive ends, we have a sophomore (Derek) Wolfe, who’s pretty beasty and big. The key to it is we have a whole second group of defensive linemen who can come in and replace whatever we’re doing. That’s a big plus. That’s what everybody knows about this program. We express it as next man in, but people don’t get the full effect of it because we see it every day.”
One of the bigger surprises to emerge from training camp was redshirt freshman Brandon Mills. Though he sits behind Wolfe on the depth chart at the defensive tackle spot, Mills has impressed the coaching staff with his ability.
Yes, he’s 5-foot-10 and 266 pounds compared to Wolfe’s 6-5, 302-pound frame, but he made quite an impression at Higher Ground, and so far, he’s brought that excitement into the regular season. He’s fifth on the team with 10 tackles to go with a sack.
“He plays with a lot of energy,” BK said. “He plays with great leverage, great pad level, and he can get off blocks. He concerns you a little bit play-after-play because he can get doubled and moved. But he’s a great change of pace from the 6-5, 305-pound Wolfe guy and it’s a nice 1-2 punch there.”
Said Matthews: “Man, Mills is a very enjoyable person to watch. He’s real animated, but it’s a good animated. If he makes a tackle, he fills the whole energy of the defense. He fills up the bucket for you. He’s a goofy individual, but he’s definitely a good player despite his size. Like (Terrill) Byrd.”
All of that together has helped the Bearcats put together a top-25 defense and a run defense that ranks No. 15 in the country.
“It’s what we do in the offseason,” Matthews said. “It starts with winter conditioning and the spring conditioning. The stuff we do on our own. We bust (butt) on the field. We work sweat, cry, and bleed. We just ball out as best we can. We know it’s an interview every Saturday.”