Cincy's D isn't pretty, but it works
NEW ORLEANS -- Go ahead and criticize the Cincinnati defense. Just don't expect any apologies from the Bearcats.
The numbers weren't too pretty over the last month of the regular season. But to a man, Cincinnati insists only one statistic really means anything.
"The only thing that matters is wins," linebacker Andre Revels said. "And right now, we've got a lot of them and no losses."
The Bearcats (12-0) managed to finish in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. But their stats took a tumble over the last four games, in which they allowed an average of 36.5 points and 424 yards per game. Two teams -- Pitt and UConn -- scored at least 44 points, while Illinois put up 36.
That should be a concern for the Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup against Florida, which averaged 34.7 points per game in the rugged SEC. While Cincinnati has tried to fix some of its problems since the end of the season, no one on the defensive side of the ball seems too worried about the late-season slump.
"It's going to be really hard for me to be critical of this group," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "The point total is unacceptable. But the body of work for this group of guys and what they've been able to do is incredible."
It's all a matter of perspective. The Bearcats began the season with 10 new defensive starters, and Diaco said all but two players had reached their career high in minutes played by the end of the first half of the first game, against Rutgers.
It's a defense that has incorporated some former offensive players -- like linebackers Craig Carey and Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones, who were both quarterbacks, and defensive lineman Alex Daniels, who was a running back at Minnesota -- as well as some key freshmen and players who waited until their senior year for a shot. Daniels called the defense "a bunch of misfits."
Viewed in that light, the defense did a remarkable job of keeping the team in every game. And don't forget that Cincinnati's offense scores so quickly -- ranking last nationally in time of possession, with a little more than 25 minutes per game -- that the defense never gets much of a breather.
"Our offense is so good it's almost bad for the defense," linebacker J.K. Schaffer said. "They score so fast that we're back on the field almost before you know it."
Still, there's little question that the Cincinnati defense showed major chinks in the armor down the stretch. The smallish defensive front in Diaco's 3-4 scheme got pushed around by teams with big offensive lines like Connecticut and Pitt. The Bearcats had to go to a lot of run blitzes in the second half against Pittsburgh after falling behind 31-10 and giving up too many rushing yards.
Florida's offensive line averages 313 pounds and should present another major challenge.
"They have an electric offense, with a big line and electric playmakers," Revels said. "The biggest thing I can say is we've just got to go out there and make tackles."
If it turns into a shootout Friday night, so be it. The Bearcats won't really care about how many points they've given up, as long as they can score more.
Brian Bennett covers Big East football for ESPN.com.
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