Did. That. Just. Happen? The only other time I have ever uttered those words was when I was watching Cincinnati and Pitt in 2009. Remember what happened then? And it was just about the same kind of game. Against Pitt, Tony Pike looked uncomfortable in the first half throwing a couple of picks and the entire team looked flat. Today, Zach threw a shovel pass 20 feet in the air that was intercepted just before the half and overall looked like he had never played quarterback before. In the second half against Pitt, Cincinnati’s defense stepped up despite trading touchdowns near the end of the game. Deven Drane’s pick today allowed Cincinnati to keep it close despite allowing a long touchdown drive near the end of regulation. A game ending touchdown pass to Armon Binns in 2009 was mirrored by a gutsy game ending QB draw by Zach Collaros today.
No Big East championship was won by the victory over the Bulls but Cincinnati is now alone in first place in the conference, is the only team to be undefeated in Big East play, and is bowl eligible for the first time since that 2009 season. With a bye coming up next weekend, Bearcats fans are buzzing with excitement after this win. Can you imagine if Cincinnati lost today? It’d be two weeks of – Fire Butch. Fire the defensive coordinators. Bench Zach. Back to Conference-USA. A one-yard run by Collaros was the difference between two weeks of jubilation and two weeks of negativity. Sure this team has a ton of weaknesses but lack of resilience isn’t one of them. The Bearcats, bolstered by veterans at just about every position, are a never-say-die team that will fight and claw until the clock hits double-zeroes at the end of the game. Let’s get to a breakdown of each unit:
To say they struggled in the first half is an understatement. Eric Lefeld starting at right tackle for the injured Sean Hooey looked shaky on most snaps. In all honesty you can’t really blame him. He’s a redshirt freshman who has only started one other game in his career, and that was last week against Louisville. Still, UC was finding it tough running to the right side where Lefeld was blocking. The Bulls did a great job of making Isaiah Pead a non factor in the first half but Pead didn’t help himself throughout the game by stuttering at the line instead of bursting through what running lanes the offense was giving him. He, like the rest of the offense starting to come alive in the 2nd half but still only finished with 79 yards on the ground. To Collaros, he was absolutely putrid in the first half. The shovel pass-pick was the epitome of his play and nearly had me punching through my computer screen. Constantly he would breakdown and scramble when there was pressure off the edge instead of simply stepping up in the pocket and completing a pass downfield. Also when he scrambled he made stupid plays like that shovel pass instead of simply throwing the ball out of bounds. That was 2010 Zach all over again.
But when the team took the field after halftime, 2011 Zach emerged from the tunnel after giving 2010 Zach a swirly and shoving him into his locker, never to be seen again. He had two amazing deep passes to Kenbrell Thompkins as the pocket collapsed around him early in the 3rd and to Anthony McClung on the game’s final drive. He threw bullets all over the field and the biggest change in the second half was that he was actually stepping up in the pocket his offensive line gave him instead of scrambling 2 seconds after the snap. His poise was unbelievable near the end of the game. To the receivers, I can’t help but mention true freshman Alex Chisum. The dude broke countless Calvin Johnson (Yes, that Calvin Johnson) records at Sandy Creek High School and he’s showing those skills that has forced the Cincinnati coaching staff to place him near the top of the depth chart. He specializes in high pointing the ball and he did that perfectly on his touchdown catch. I have a feeling that won’t be the last one we’ll see from him in a Bearcat uniform. Finally, McClung had a very solid day in the slot and a nice block on the final drive that allowed Kenbrell Thompkins to gain another 10 yards. It was also a bounce back day from D.J. Woods who had been struggling of late but seemed to have very sticky hands today.
It’s just unfair forcing opposing offensive lines to block this defensive front. Derek Wolfe, Dan Giordano, and Brandon Mills are all of players of different skills and abilities but are equally difficult to block. Even with just a four man rush, B.J. Daniels was forced many times to scrambled out of the pocket and makes plays on the run. The unit only had a couple sacks but a less mobile quarterback would have been brought down twice as much. It really is a testament to Daniels’ ability to evade defenders that he was able to create so many plays with two or three Bearcat defensive lineman flying around him. To the linebackers, Nick Temple got the start again this week and shows a lot of promise for only a true freshman. J.K. Schaffer was his usual dominant self and overall the unit played well against filling the gaps against the run. I was extremely disappointed in two areas: Their coverage against the tight ends and on crossing routes, as well as tackling in space (is that three areas?). Anyways, these will absolutely have to be corrected in the bye week as Cincinnati plays two spread teams in a row in Pitt and WVU who will undoubtedly run a lot of short crossing routes in their spreads. The secondary played about as well as I thought they would. They are the weakest area on the team and have to clearly improve on deep passes, tackling in space, and not biting on the play action. It’s become a broken record at this point and there isn’t much else to say about it. Thank goodness the Bearcats bring in a ton of DBs in the 2012 class. The brightest spot on the defense, who shouldn’t be splitting time with anybody, is Deven Drane who had another pick and covered the receiver perfectly on it. The play looked like it was literally designed to go to him.
Like the rest of the team in the first half, the special teams was shaky at best. Danny Milligan, in to replace D.J. Woods at punt returned, fumbled the first ball kicked to him. Luckily UC recovered and, to his credit, Milligan recovered and was solid on the rest of the punts throughout the game. Also causing me to stab myself in the eyes was Tony Miliano who shanked a short field goal to the left. He did make a huge one later and is only a redshirt freshman so I can give him some leniency. He also had a blocked extra point near the end of the game to put Cincinnati up by 4 but that is more on the blockers than him. Overall the entire unit needed a talking to after the game. Finally, I’m waiting for kick returner Ralph David Abernathy to break one for a touchdown. He looks to be just a single block away from doing it.
Topics: Bearcats, Bearcats Football, Butch Jones, Cincinnati, Coach Butch Jones, Coach Jones, D.J. Woods, Derek Wolfe, Isaiah Pead, J.K. Schaffer, Kenbrell Thompkins, Nation, Pitt, Pitt Panthers, South Florida Bulls, UC Athletics, UC News, West Virginia, West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU, Zach Collaros