Posted by Chip Patterson
Cincinnati's defense was horrendous last year. The Bearcats gave up 369.4 yards and 28.0 points per game, finishing near the bottom of the conference in most defensive rankings. It was particularly frustrating considering the offense, led by All-Big East quarterback Zach Collaros was putting up 27.1 points per game and leading the conference. The defensive woes combined with a -15 turnover margin - faulting both sides of the ball - resulted in a 4-8 record for Butch Jones' first year at the helm and the first bowl-less postseason since 2005.
Improving both the defense and turnovers have been at the top of Cincinnati's list since the beginning of spring practice. With all 11 starters returning, the unit has reportedly used their experience to make great strides in the offseason and fall camp. After all the talk, it is now time for the unit to show results. Their first chance will be on Saturday against Austin Peay.
"We need to go out and get a shutout," senior linebacker JK Schaffer told reporters. "That's what we 're going for and that's our goal. I really don't want to settle for anything less. We have a lot of things to prove. The whole defense understands that."
Schaffer was an all-conference second team selection in 2010, and was named to the CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big East Team earlier this month. The senior middle linebacker is not only one of the few heralded individuals on the unit, but he is also expected to make his teammates better as they try to fix many of last season's mistakes. The players have spoken during the offseason about "a different attitude" and "buying in" to Butch Jones with one year in the can.
But the time for recycled football phrases is over as the Bearcats prepare for a new season. With Collaros, running back Isaiah Pead (1,063 yards, 6 TDs), and wide receiver DJ Woods (57 catches, 898 yards, 8 TDs) all returning, Cincinnati's offense should be able to put up comparable numbers to 2010. An improved defense should put Cincinnati in a position to make the postseason once again and possibly be a long-shot conference title contender. With a trip to Knoxville awaiting them in Week 2, Saturday would be a great time to make a statement.
A shutout, as Schaffer is suggesting, would be quite the statement. The Bearcats kick off against Austin Peay at 7 p.m. in Nippert Stadium.