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Is Cincinnati's defense the weak link versus Pitt?

December, 2, 2009
12/02/09
4:30
PM ET
Cincinnati linebacker Andre Revels doesn't put much stock into the notion that his defense has shown some serious vulnerability over the past few games.

"That's for people outside to think about," Revels said. "We don't go into statistics. We don't go into why this is happening or why that's happening. The only thing we're worried about is throwing up W's, and right now we're doing a good job of that so you can't really question it."

[+] EnlargeAndre Revels
Rich Kane/Icon SMILinebacker Andre Revels isn't concerned about the perception the Cincinnati defense is struggling heading into the game against Pitt.
Revels has a point. The No. 5 Bearcats (11-0, 6-0 Big East) haven't been beaten this year and have won 17 straight regular-season games. So any worrying about issues seems like mere nitpicking.

Still, Cincinnati has a major test on its hands this week at No. 15 Pittsburgh (9-2, 5-1) in the battle for the Big East's BCS bid. And Pitt's offense has the potential to turn those recent vulnerabilities into a fatal flaw.

For much of the season, the Bearcats were ranked among the nation's leaders in most defensive statistics. Then came the Connecticut game, in which the Huskies piled up 462 yards and 45 points in their two-point loss. West Virginia scored only 21 points in a three-point loss at Nippert Stadium, but the Mountaineers had 390 yards and 202 on the ground. Then last week, Illinois scored 36 points and rolled up 476 yards in a 13-point defeat.

So Cincinnati hasn't exactly been stuffing people. Now comes Pitt, which is second in the Big East in total offense, is averaging 32.2 points per game and has dynamic options in both the run and pass games.

"We've given up some points in the last few weeks, there's no doubt about it," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "But I'm confident we can compete and keep the score to where it doesn't have to be a shootout, and we don't have to score every time we have the ball."

In some ways, the Bearcats' ability to score so many times has hurt the defense. Cincinnati ranks last out of 120 FBS teams in time of possession at just 26:03 per game. That means the defense has been on the field nearly 34 minutes of every game, often without much rest after a fast-strike scoring drive from the offense.

"We're battling the best we can," Kelly said. "We certainly don't help them in the style of offense we play because we score quickly. But I'd rather put more points on the board at the end of the game."

UConn, in particular, showed that a strong offensive line can overpower Kelly's 3-4 defense at the point of attack. The Bearcats aren't the biggest team up front; backup noseguard Brandon Mills, for instance, weighs just 266 pounds. Pitt has probably the best offensive line in the Big East.

"Their offensive line, they look just mean on film," Revels said. "Their stances are aggressive. They come off the ball aggressive. It's just going to be a real aggressive game."

Cincinnati's defensive vulnerabilities of late haven't been lost on the Panthers.

"We see certain things we think we'll be able to do," Pitt quarterback Bill Stull said. "We've seen the close games they were in the last couple of weeks, like UConn, West Virginia. Those came down to the fourth quarter. We understand certain things we've got to do."

The thing is, even when other teams have found ways to make the Bearcats' defense bend, the team hasn't broken. They are still 11-0, after all.

"I don't feel like you can have problems if you're winning," Revels said.

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