I can’t stress enough how important the game against the Volunteers on Saturday means to the Cincinnati football program, the Big East, and Coach Butch Jones. After an abysmal 4 – 8 campaign, it seemed like the momentum during the previous few years had all of sudden slammed to a halt. But let’s get something straight here, Butch Jones didn’t take a Ferrari Brian Kelly gave him and drove it off a cliff. He took a Ferrari that didn’t have an engine, tires, or frame and was asked to drive it to race it to another championship. I’m in the camp that Kelly didn’t give two shits about recruiting and thus left little for Coach Jones to work with when he took over early in 2010. While Kelly built a football TEAM at Cincinnati, Coach Jones and crew are building a football PROGRAM, one that can stand the test of time. I can get behind a coach that works as hard as he does and has a positive vision in mind. There are still detractors out there, however, so Butch needs a marquee win against an SEC, national powerhouse Tennessee squad (no matter how down) to reel those people back in. It’s a tough test but let’s breakdown the five things to look for in this game.
- UC’s D-Line vs. UT’s O-Line – The Bearcats have one of the most talented, deepest squads in the Big East, rotating 8 – 9 players in throughout the game. The starters have a ton of experience and talent. The backups will do more than just provide them a break on a few snaps. The most important thing about UC’s depth along the line is that the backups are very talented in their own rights and can step in for the starters at any time and not miss a beat. Think of it this way; there may be only four ‘starting’ defensive lineman, but the four-to-five backups could easily fill their shoes. The Volunteer’s offensive line will be pressed to match this. They have SEC size and talent, but lack SEC experience. While they had quite a bit of playing time in 2010, they still have yet to work as a cohesive unit. The offensive line might start gelling by the end of the season but as of right now they aren’t instilling confidence in anyone. It’s especially important for the Bearcats to win in the trenches on the defensive side of the ball because Tyler Bray has the ability to burn Cincinnati’s secondary if given enough time. They have to focus on getting to Bray by any means necessary.
- Cincinnati’s WRs vs. Tennessee’s Secondary – The theme for this game is experience (UC) vs. inexperience (UT), and the same goes when talking about these two position groups. This is especially true for D.J. Woods who is nearly the complete package at wide receiver and has great vision. If a play breaks down he does a good job of finding holes between or behind defenders. Any secondary has to be especially wary of his abilities. Overall, Cincinnati has the more experienced unit and if they are clicking could cause fits for the Vols’ DBs. However, this all depends on the Bearcats’ offensive line allowing Zach to get the ball to those playmakers. This leads us to #3:
- How will UC’s O-Line protect Zach? – Against Austin Peay, I like what a saw of out the offensive tackles Hooey and Hoffman, but the interior provided some questions. Randy Martinez has been consistent at left guard but Evan Davis and Austin Bujnoch have some work to do. I can give Bujnoch a pass as that was his first career start and he looks like he has quite a bit of upside. He’s going to be a good lineman but just needs more experience. Let’s hope he is a quick learner as an SEC team is right around the corner. Evan Davis continued to look lost at center not holding his ground sometimes. But providing time and avoiding sacks is also on Zach who needs to use the pocket the offensive line does create. A few times against the Governors, I saw Zach get flustered and start rolling out when he should have just taken a few steps forward into the protection the O-Line was providing. The line played OK against Austin Peay but the Volunteers will be a completely different story as they are fairly experienced up front with talented but young linebackers.
- Isaiah Pead needs to get his numbers – Cincinnati’s spread is mistakenly thought of as a pass-first, pass-only offense. That’s not the case, as All-Big East running back Isaiah Pead is a fixture in the scheme and not just on half back flares and circles. For the offensive machine to work as it’s designed, Pead needs to keep the defense honest by putting up good yardage per play and occasionally breaking out big runs. He’s very capable but needs to improve his consistency. The offensive line to give him running lanes and, like the pass protection, blocking in the middle is still questionable. When the Bearcats offense is balanced, they put up video game-like numbers. I’m not saying they are putting up 50 on Tennessee, but balance is the key to a well oiled offensive machine.
- The Kicking/Punting games – Tony Miliano shanked his first ever career extra point but settled down last Saturday drilling his last 7 and adding a made field goal to his resume. Still, that was in front of the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium and while he had some hostile environments while playing at Elder, nothing is going to compare to Neyland Stadium. 100,000+ screaming fans is tough enough on the nerves of kickers, let alone freshman. To the UC punter Pat O’Donnell, he didn’t see any playing time during the Austin Peay game but you can probably expect him to be consistent. He’s got Kevin Huber-like accuracy and has one of the best legs in the Big East if not the nation. Many people think that this game will be a shootout because of the offenses and defenses of both teams. But if Cincinnati’s offense gets bogged down, the legs of Milano and O’Donnell will be very important.
Let’s get to the Big East Week 2 predictions:
Louisville vs. FIU – The matchup against FIU is a trap game for the Cards but I expect a Charlie Strong-coached team to come out well prepared for the Panthers. Louisville – 17, FIU – 14
Rutgers vs. UNC – Rutgers showed strides last week agaisnt N.C. Central but the Tar Heels are tough test for a team still trying to figure out their offensive line. UNC – 27, Rutgers 17
Pitt vs. Maine – It’s Pitt. It’s Maine. Pitt – 36, Maine 9
West Virginia vs. Norfolk St. – I expect Geno Smith to really start understanding Holgorsen’s offense and put on a show. WVU – 51, Norfolk St – 10
Syracuse vs. Rhode Island – The Orange had a scare last week but I think Marrone will get their butts in gear this weekend. Syracuse – 31, Rhode Island – 8
South Florida vs. Ball State – Somewhat of a trap game like Louisville-FIU as the Cardinals beat Indiana last weekend. However, USF is much more talented and better coached than the Hoosers. South Florida – 28, Ball State – 13
UConn vs. Vanderbilt – The Huskies are still playing a quarterback by committee (with three of them!) making them very one dimensional while Vandy’s coach is trying to build buzz around the program. Vandy – 23, UConn 17
Topics: Anthony McClung, Bearcats, Bearcats Football, Big East, Cincinnati, Connecticut, D.J. Woods, Derek Wolfe, Isaiah Pead, Kenbrell Thompkins, Louisville, Louisville Cardinals, Nation, Pitt, Pitt Panthers, RU, Rutgers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, South Florida Bulls, SU, Syracuse, Syracuse Orange, Tennessee, UConn, USF, West Virginia, West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU, Zach Collaros