They don’t make it easy, especially on my blood pressure, but these Bearcats simply know how to win football games. For a third time this season, Cincinnati played from a deficit at halftime to claim victory when the game finally ended. That’s a testament to the professionalism and leadership Coach Jones and company were talking about all offseason. Again the defense came up big. While the Bearcats’ offense by the numbers put up a solid amount of points yesterday (26), they were benefited by short fields granted to them by a Walter Stewart fumble and a Cameron Cheatham interception. Speaking of Stewart, who doesn’t have the best stats of the defensive lineman, he was a menace to Pitt’s offense in the 4th quarter, forcing and recovering that fumble, knocking the pass on the Cheatham pick in the air, and nearly coming up with an interception himself right from the line. His brothers on the interior weren’t too shabby either. Derek Wolfe and John Hughes had been breaking through Pitt’s offensive line all night and was finally getting to Sunseri late in the 4th quarter when it counted. That also says a lot about the UC secondary that held Sunseri to only 218 yards through the air and only a short touchdown a week after the quarterback had a career year. In the 4th he was finding it harder and harder to find an open receiver downfield, allowing more time for the pass rush to get to him. The entire defense was working in perfect sync in crunch time and it was amazing to watch.
The offense? Not so much. They looked out of sorts all night long and while they were able to sustain long drives, seemed to bog down the closer they got to the endzone and had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. The run game was a disappointment. Isaiah Pead’s line was solid – 118 yards on 22 carries – but outside of the 53 yard run to open the game, he only ran at about 3 yards per carry. Pitt’s run defense is very solid but I was surprised he wasn’t more of a factor. I’m also not sure what Mike Bajakian’s gameplan was coming into the matchup on passing plays but the creativity was missing tonight. It seemed like on every third and short they would simply run it with Collaros on a quarterback draw. If you were following my tweets last night you know how much that pisses me off. Zach Collaros is not Dan LeFevour. He’s a solid runner is his own right but the ‘Bearcat’ (UC’s wildcat formation) or George Winn need to be ran in short yardage situations. I don’t care if UC puts a 6th lineman in there to block, I can’t stand QB draws on 3rd/4th and short. Speaking of gameplanning, Zach Collaros is not a pocket passer because a.) he can’t see over the interior offensive lineman and b.) he panics too quickly when the pocket begins to collapse on him. Regardless of how much this offense requires a quarterback that stands in the pocket in timed plays, Collaros needs to be rolled out to be effective. It’s no surprise his longest passes, 44 yards to Woods and 27 to McClung, were when Zach was outside of the pocket.
Let’s finish up with special teams. Miliano deserves player of the game honors from how clutch he was last night. He nailed all four field goals and both extra points. His 41 yarder was the difference in the game and he came up big all night when the offense failed to find the endzone. It makes Coach Jones’ life easier knowing that his kicker can make anything from a reasonable range. Miliano is young, only a redshirt freshman, and we will have to deal with growing pains of a young kicker but so far he has made the transition from Jake Rogers as smooth as possible. In the punting game, Pat O’Donnell’s golden leg was in fine form last night booming punts at almost 44 yards per kick and flipping the field continuous times forcing Pitt’s defense to execute long drives to score on the Bearcats.
In my quick reaction to the game I said that this team is far from perfect. They have issues in the secondary and Collaros is the most frustrating/exciting quarterback in the Big East. Regardless of these problems, the Bearcats are 7 – 1 and undefeated in the Big East. They have a two game lead on the Louisville Cardinals but own the tiebreaker so it’s really like a three game advantage. Cincinnati has four games left in conference play and unless they lay an egg in the coming games could be hoisting another Big East trophy this December. The next step is for a crowd of 60,000+ Bearcats fans fill up Paul Brown Stadium next Saturday and cheer on UC to a win and a stranglehold on this conference.