Through Three Games, Evaluating the UCF Defense

Through three games, there have been ups and downs with UCF's defense. Here's a closer look at all three levels of the defense.
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ORLANDO - The Knights are a unique defensive team. Moments of tremendous plays, then out of the blue a complete breakdown in coverage or with a run fit that each leads to chunk-yardage plays for an opposing offense. 

How does one evaluate such a defense?

It's not easy. The best answer is to grade piece by piece, and that's in the podcast below. Before getting to the podcast, a few basic points about each level of the defense through three games.

Defensive Line

Need more sacks. That's priority No. 1 moving forward. Josh Celiscar, the sophomore defensive end, holds the only sack through three games. There have been numerous opportunities for multiple UCF defensive lineman to generate sacks, and they have allowed those chances to slip through their fingers, figuratively and literally.

Josh Celiscar (#88) registered UCF's first sack of the season against Louisville

Josh Celiscar (#88) registered UCF's first sack of the season against Louisville

Whether it's Big Kat Bryant missing two sacks against Bethune-Cookman or several different defenders missing sacks against Boise State, UCF did not register a sack during the first two games. That's unacceptable. 

Louisville was more difficult with Malik Cunningham at quarterback, but the Knights failed to contain him despite knowing what he would try to do; that's a big mistake. 

It cost UCF sacks and added to Louisville's rushing statistics. It's simply lost assignments, and a lack of good tackling that's hurt the big fellas up front when it comes to sacking the quarterback. They must do better, much better, moving forward.

The rush defense simply got tired against Louisville. The concern about defensive line depth came to fruition against the Cardinals (listen to the podcast for details). Need to figure out a way to gain more impact plays from reserves.

There's been a great scheme for each of the three games, but the players did not do a good job against Louisville and it allowed 5.2 yards per carry to the Cardinals because of poor execution and Louisville playing better than it had through three games.

UCF destroyed the offensive fronts through the first two games, and they should have. Those two offensive lines were not that good. That's why so much emphasis on the Louisville game was placed towards the final grade.

Grade: B-

Linebackers

UCF did a really nice job of playing assignment football through two games, especially against the run. Every player that came into the game was fairly consistent. It was great to see.

There's no one player that needs to placed well above the others. This is a unit that plays well together. Any one given player could be the one that makes a big play, such as Tatum Bethune bringing in an interception, or Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste making a tackle for loss. There is one issue to be concerned about, however, based on the first three games.

Tatum Bethune UCF

Tatum Bethune, Linebacker

Every now and again the Knights lose coverage responsibility. Bryson Armstrong was beat over the top for a touchdown against Bethune-Cookman. That's a combination of a good play by the opposition and poor technique. It still cannot happen. 

That's an example of how to lose a game against a team like Louisville, and the Cardinals attacked UCF with the same type of play and it worked. 

Overall, UCF's linebackers played better than the other two units because of consistency, but pass coverage needs to be cleaned up.

Grade: B

Defensive Back

The Knights have been a roller coaster in the secondary. Two or three great plays will be followed by one player failing to stick with his man or do a good job within his zone. Those mishaps lead to first downs and touchdowns for the opposing team.

It's just so random that it's hard to figure out. There's ample talent in the UCF secondary, but it's mostly inexperienced sophomores and juniors. Time to grow up in a hurry, as no team will have any mercy.

Divaad Wilson UCF

The UCF defense needs to be more consistent in coverage, but there's a great deal of talent to work with moving forward

The safety play has been improving quite a bit, especially with Quadric Bullard leading the team in tackles with 25 stops. With Divaad Wilson and Dyllon Lester also playing better week by week, this is a promising aspect of the secondary. Cornerback has been less comforting, and there's an injury to be concerned about.

With Corey Thornton being injured during the Louisville game, it's going to potentially place more pressure on the other UCF defensive backs. No one knows how long, if at all, Thornton will miss action. 

Cornerback play proved to be mediocre for much of the first three games to begin with. Losing a player with Thornton's upside is a huge blow if he misses any time. His injury impacts the biggest concern for the secondary.

Too many missed assignments would be the basic concern. It's not talent. Want to reiterate that point.

The second half bust against Louisville that did not have a defender within 20 yards of a receiver on the sidelines. Those are the types of plays that negate 10 consecutive good plays. 

UCF must stop allowing chunk-yardage passing plays. 10, 15, 20 or more yards from one play. Those are the killers.

For this reason, UCF's secondary has yet to live up to its potential.

Grade: C

Here's the podcast discussing UCF's defense:

For UCF insights, college football news, and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast; it will be found on iTunes and Spotify. For Twitter, @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation, as well as my YouTube Channel and Instagram page. Like and Subscribe!

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