StorrsCentral - Mickens, strong Cincinnati D will test UConn
football Edit

Mickens, strong Cincinnati D will test UConn

With 10 senior starters on a defense that led the nation in interceptions and turnovers in 2007, Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly certainly didn't expect the Oklahoma offense to throttle his team on Sept. 6.
But that's exactly what happened as the Sooners, then ranked No. 4 in the nation, scored 52 points against a team facing its first Division I Bowl Subdivision opponent of the season.
"We had a lot of veterans, but we weren't playing together," said Kelly, who admitted the Oklahoma loss gave him a chance to evaluate several key facets of his defense's play. "We're playing together [now]. I think everybody knows their roles and that happens at times. I think we started to find our own identity."
The adjustments Kelly made were about comfort as much as they were cohesion. DeAngelo Smith led the nation with eight interceptions in 2007 as a cornerback, moved to free safety before the season and then returned to his natural position after three games. That meant a return to free safety for Brandon Underwood, a senior transfer from Ohio State, and the temporary promotion to starter of redshirt freshman Drew Frey to strong safety before he broke his right arm.
Most importantly, however, might have been the focus on fundamentals for senior cornerback Mike Mickens. Kelly said Mickens was too busy "reading his press clippings" and believing his hype to be the same player who earned all-America status last season.Did you know?UConn's Zach Frazer and Cincinnati's Demetrius Jones began last season as teammates at Notre Dame.
"The analogy there is that he needed to get back to the fundamentals that got him to this point," Kelly said. "He worked his butt off in practice and paid attention to the detail, and he's back to doing that and that's why he's gotten better."
Kelly, upset with Mickens' play, limited his off-the-field distractions. It worked. Mickens, who will make his 41st consecutive start Saturday against UConn at noon (MyTV9, SNY), currently leads the Bearcats with 39 tackles.
There is, however, still work to be done. Cincinnati enters Saturday's contest surrendering an average of 328 yards per game, the second-worst in the Big East behind Syracuse. After surrendering 592 yards of total offense to Oklahoma, both Miami (Ohio) and Akron each also gained over 300 yards against the Bearcats' defense.
The numbers have improved in Big East play and figure to get even better as Cincinnati will likely face a first-time starter in UConn's Cody Endres on Saturday. Endres, a redshirt freshman, is expected to get the nod over Zach Frazer, who is believed to have received a concussion against Rutgers last Saturday.
Only UConn, which has nine interceptions this season, has picked off more passes than Cincinnati (eight). The opportunity could be there for the Bearcats to improve those numbers Saturday, but only if the team remains patient.
"It's a group that is gaining some confidence and continuity together," Kelly said. "It takes some time, and we've gotten better and better each and every week."