The Keg of Nails is one of the most anticipated trophy games for UC fans. It really is a step above the rest. The Paddlewheel Trophy? Maybe but it will likely end after next season. Boy was the potential there. The Victory Bell? Meh. Cincinnati has owned that series of late and aren’t going to lose anytime soon. Clearly of those matchups UC v. Louisville turns the most heads among Bearcat fans.
Unfortunately for the past decade the games have been fairly one-sided for long periods of time. The Cardinals were juggernauts on the gridiron in the early 2000′s behind the dangerous passing attack concocted by Bobby Petrino. Their 70 – 7 drubbing of my beloved Bearcats still haunts me to this day. UC kept some games close but UL was generally the better team. Things changed in 2007, during the inaugural seasons of Brian Kelly at Cincinnati and Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville. It was great for UC who haven’t lost to their down-river rivals since then but the Keg of Nails itself suffered. The Bearcats were clearly upward trending with the Cards getting Kragthorped into the Big East cellar as Cincinnati started to dominate the series itself.
But since the Jones/Strong era began in 2010 at their respective programs, the games have gotten much more interesting. The first matchup between the two coaches ended in a 35 – 27 Cincinnati with Zach Collaros hitting Armon Binns for a long touchdown late in the game to seal the deal. While the Bearcats had won that day it was clear this wasn’t the same Louisville squad that trudged onto the field when Kragthorpe was running the show. The same can be said of the Keg of Nails game last year.
It was defensive struggle of sorts. Cincinnati boasted an experience squad while Louisville had a group of talented but inexperienced players still gelling with one another. And for the first half the youngins got the best of the vets. While scoring a combined 71 points the previous two weeks, UC was held to just 7 against the Cards. On top of that Collaros threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off and returned for a touchdown just seconds before the end of the half. It was obvious that Louisville had 100% of the momentum and were on pace to take back the Keg of Nails trophy.
The silver lining of the first half was that Louisville couldn’t to do much of anything against Cincinnati’s defense, either. Like most games in 2011, the defense provided the boost to get UC’s offense going. It started with a QB sneak in the third to reduce the deficit to two points. So far so good but the Bearcats needed more. After a couple of defensive stands Cincinnati was sitting at mid-field with just over 12 minutes to go in the game. After a quick incompletion, Coach Jones and Bajakian opted to put the ball in the hands of of their stud runningback Isaiah Pead.
With Louisville’s defense pinning their ears back, ready for another defensive stop, Cincinnati’s coaching staff let Pead take them to glory. The Cardinals on the strong side flat out overran the play which fed perfectly into the zone blocking schemes of UC’s offensive line. The Bearcats’ hogmollies simply kept pushing their momentum towards the sidelines leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the field. Isaiah Pead did the rest. With a quick burst to his right and a shimmy to his left, iPead was running in open space in no time. After a juke of Louisville’s free safety, Pead used his pure speed to burn the rest of the defense and a few seconds later put the Bearcats up 22 – 16 a lead they would never relinquish. Words can’t do the amazitude of Isaiah’s run any justice. Check it out:
More timely playcalling from the UC coaching staff and a vintage Pead run. Perfection. This play won the game for the Bearcats and fueled the growing fire of this rivalry. While Jones is currently 2 – 0 against Strong they lead programs who should carry the Big East name into the new era. With traditional programs such as Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia it will be up to Louisville and Cincinnati to carry the flag as some of the longest-tenured teams in the conference. Thankfully, both should contend for Big East titles in the coming years with Jones and Strong at the helm. As such the Keg of Nails will become a much more intriguing game in the future and Cincinnati fans can point to plays like Pead’s when the jawing between fans most certainly begins.