Kelly left behind an inexperienced unit. There were no senior starters and only six players who had started a game during their college careers. Midway through the season, as injuries added up, they had the youngest defense in the BCS with eight sophomores starting.
There was so little depth that the defensive line had to play virtually the entire game. And the Bearcats were learning their third defensive scheme in three years - Kelly had switched defenses in his final season as well.
It was all too much. This year, it's all different.
"Maturity, experience, more depth, leadership - everything,'' senior linebacker J.K. Schaffer said. "Guys know the defense now. Now our attitude is we're going to keep playing no matter what, no matter what the score is or how much time is left in the game.
"I think that's really changed from last year. We really didn't have that mindset and that attitude last year, and that hurt us. Having guys with more experience has really helped us.''
Jones would like to have a little more depth on the defense, but there's enough to give his linemen a break and keep them fresher for the fourth quarter. Last year, defensive tackle Derek Wolfe was forced to play 80 to 85 snaps a game because there was no one capable of filling in without causing problems.
"It's huge to be able to take a couple of snaps off,'' said Wolfe, a senior who leads the Big East with seven sacks. "You can't get a quality pass rush when you have dead legs. After 80 snaps, really there's not a lot left to give.
"Last year in the fourth quarter, your legs are just dead and you're not getting anything productive done. On our fourth-quarter pass rush now, we can all get there. We're not dead.''
They've also developed a confidence that they can change a game around, something that was too much to ask last year.
"A lot of these games we wouldn't have won last year because we didn't have the experience to push through that,'' Wolfe said.