Cincinnati must fix defense as it starts AAC play

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CINCINNATI (AP) Pushed around. Knocked around. Awful. Exposed. Coach Tommy Tuberville didn't try to minimize the Bearcats' defensive ineptitude in their biggest game of the season.

The challenge now is to somehow make that same defense better for conference play.

Cincinnati gave up an NCAA-record 45 first downs and 710 yards during a 50-28 loss at Ohio State on Saturday. The Bearcats (2-1) couldn't stop the run or the pass, turning a high-scoring game into a blowout in the second half.

They host Memphis (2-2) on Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium in their American Athletic Conference opener. Cincinnati was picked to win the league because of its powerful passing game behind Gunner Kiel, but the defense will decide whether the Bearcats are a contender.

Tuberville said his team got ''pushed around.''

''We've got a lot of young guys trying to learn new positions that they don't have experience in, but we've got to get better in some areas,'' he said. ''It's not been very good defensively. It's pretty easy to tell that.''

Cincinnati has given up 34, 24 and 50 points in its first three games. The Bearcats rank 10th in the AAC in defense. Their line isn't holding, and their young secondary is giving up big plays.

Ohio State dominated the game by simply running the ball straight ahead. The Buckeyes had 101 plays, including 65 runs that generated 380 yards. Ohio State faced only 14 third downs the entire game and converted nine of them.

''What disappointed me on Saturday was that we played awful on first down,'' Tuberville said. ''We didn't even give ourselves a chance on second and third down.''

Desperate to stop the run, the Bearcats sometimes used an eight-man, nine-man or 11-man front and still couldn't stop the Buckeyes.

''It upsets me, but it doesn't hurt my pride,'' linebacker Nick Temple said. ''I know what we're capable of. We know we're better than we were last week.''

Tuberville is considering lineup changes. Senior cornerback Adrian Witty is expected back after missing two games because of injuries. Cincinnati has three sophomores and a freshman atop the depth chart as the safety positions, so the secondary is going to be a work in progress all season.

''We haven't had many breaks on defense,'' Tuberville said.

The one bright spot for the Bearcats has been the passing game. Kiel threw four more touchdown passes in Columbus, giving him 14 in the first three games. He ranks seventh nationally in yards passing per game at 347.

Tuberville wondered how Kiel would respond when he got knocked around. He took a hit below the chin against Ohio State but stayed in the game and played well.

''He has that look in your eye that you want as a quarterback after he had the heck knocked out of him,'' Tuberville said. ''So he has done a good job of taking licks bouncing back, being able to not lose his concentration, focusing on the next play, continuing with the offense.''

Notes: Tuberville expects his offensive line to be closer to full-strength. Left guard Kevin Schloemer, center Deyshawn Bond and right tackle Corey Keebler have been sidelined by injuries at various points in the first three games. Bond is expected to return. Schloemer is recovering from a concussion. Keebler is questionable.


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