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Headed to AAC title game, Bearcats' defense really has been their best offense

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Posted at 5:48 PM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 20:41:19-05

WCPO 9 will carry ABC's broadcast of the AAC championship game between UC and Tulsa Saturday, Dec. 19, at 8 p.m. Starting at 7:30 p.m., we will broadcast a 30-minute special previewing the historic game over our streaming apps online and on your smart TV.

CINCINNATI -- It’s called “coach speak” -- the go-to phrases football coaches lean on when describing the game.

It includes phrases like: “We have to establish the run,” or, "We have to protect the ball,” or, “We have to play a full 60 minutes.”

We’ve heard them all, more than once.

When it comes to the University of Cincinnati Bearcats' defense, opposing coaches fall into repeating the same phrases, too. They aren’t hackneyed, however. Their eyes have just seen their offenses hacked by one of the nation’s best.

The stats back it up. The Bearcats are fifth in the most important metric of scoring: defense. That includes a five-game stretch where Luke Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s squad held opponents to fewer than 14 points. They’re ninth in yards allowed and top 25 in both rushing (17th) and passing (23rd).

Those are just numbers, though. The words from opposing coaches are what truly count.

“They physically kicked our tails upfront and they won the one-on-one match-ups,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said after UC held the Tigers to five total rushing yards in a 49-10 loss on Halloween. “It’s one of the best defenses in the country for a reason. As an offense, we didn’t have any answers.”

East Carolina University was the team to snap that five-game streak of holding teams to fewer than 14 points. The Pirates scored 17 on Nov. 13 in a 55-17 loss.

“They may be the best defense in the country,” ECU’s offensive coordinator, Donnie Kirkpatrick, said before the game.

After the blowout loss, his boss, Mike Houston, went further with the praise.

“I think they’re easily the best team we’ve played all year,” Houston said. They’re extremely athletic; they’re very long, have great speed in the secondary. Great job in coverage. Front four generates a lot of pressure without having to bring extra (players).”

Houston had a reasonably solid start against the Bearcats defense, gaining 30 yards on seven plays on their opening drive. The Cougars finished with 282 at the end of the 38-10 Cincinnati win.

“They’re sound; they’re fast; they’re tough; they’re physical. They’re athletic, and they play with great effort, and they play well together as a team,” Houston’s Dana Holgerson said.

University of Central Florida entered its game against UC averaging 44 points and 619 yards per game. Once again, the Bearcats defense answered the call. The Knights lost 36-33 and finished with just 359 yards.

“They’re a really good football team. They’re ranked where they are for a reason,” Josh Heupel, UCF’s head coach said.

We’ll see what Tulsa’s coach, Philip Montgomery, has to say after Saturday’s conference championship.