The game started slow as expected. Neither team had played a down of live football in over three weeks and were naturally rusty. It didn’t help either offense that they were facing one of the best units in college football. The Bearcats boast a suffocating defensive line and improving secondary while the Commodores are stacked at defensive back and cover receivers like a blanket. It’s no wonder that the first half saw both teams combine for just 21 points and about 300 yards of total offense.
The turning point in the game had to have been Zac Stacy’s incomplete pass on 4th and short. While the play put the ball immediately back in the hands of Cincinnati’s offense, who drove down and scored, the idea behind the play meant so much more. Earlier in the game, James Franklin ran a trickaroony flea-flicker to no avail. It’s okay to throw some wrinkles in there but by doing it twice he was telling the Bearcats that he didn’t think his Commodores could match up one-on-one with UC. I’m almost 100% sure Cincinnati’s coaches were reminding their players of this as the game went on. Remember in the Sugar Bowl when the Bearcats ran a backwards pass from Isaiah Pead to Tony Pike, who subsequently launched the ball deep? The play failed but it was so early in the game Florida coaches knew that they had the upper hand match up-wise with their players. UC was trying to pull out all the stops to get something going on offense. The same thing happened in yesterday’s Liberty Bowl, except the shoe is on the other foot.
Cincinnati got big games from players not named Isaiah Pead or Zach Collaros. I have to give George Winn his dues. That 69 yard touchdown he broke to open UC’s drive in the 2nd quarter made most of the people in the Cincinnati Bearcats bar chanting Isaiah Pead’s name. Upon realizing that iPead doesn’t wear #32, I was left reminding them that the Bearcats actually have a second tailback who’s not too shabby in his own right. Winn has been filling in as that ground-and-pound, pseudo fullback next to Isaiah Pead all year. He blocks extremely well and is a load to bring down in short yardage situations. I was really happy when George gave Isaiah Pead a friendly one-up with the type of run Mr. Pead practically invented. Words can’t do it justice. See for yourself:
Also turning heads was true freshman Ralph David Abernathy. I had been saying all year that RAD IV was a block away from taking one to the house. He’s brought the swagger, wiggle, and speed back to the kick return position that Mardy Gilyard took with him when he graduated after the 2009 season. Yesterday Abernathy brought all of those together in a spectacular return that brought the Bearcats fans at the Liberty Bowl to their feet. It also bounced momentum back in UC’s favor after Vandy had just scored a touchdown. To make sure it stayed in Cincinnati’s hands, fellow true freshman Nick Temple came up with a huge interception late in the 4th quarter. His confidence from this game will do wonders to his development at that position next season.
Speaking of the future, this win gives the Bearcats football program plenty of juice to continue the success in 2012. Sure Cincinnati loses key starters like Pead, Collaros, J.K. Schaffer, and Derek Wolfe but this game gave us a glimpse of who to keep an eye on next year. You can never replace the skills of the 21 seniors who played in their final game as Bearcats yesterday. But with Butch Jones proving he’s a very solid coach, the staff staying in tact and pulling in the best recruiting classes UC has ever seen, and with solid contributions from guys I mentioned like Winn, Temple, and Abernathy, football at the University of Cincinnati has a bright future.