College football in Cincinnati is officially back.
UC started as fast as any team could have. After a quick three-and-out, the Bearcat offense took the field and scored a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage. George Winn nearly made most of us forget all about iPead with a 58 yard touchdown, gashing Pitt’s depleted defense up the middle. It was a thing of beauty and actually brought back memories of Isaiah Pead’s touchdown on the first snap of the season against Austin Peay last season. But Cincinnati didn’t take their foot off the pedal after a single touchdown.
The defense was the unit in the spotlight when Walter Stewart did what he does best; smash quarterbacks. On 2nd-and-10 Pitt attempted to test Cincinnati’s veteran secondary with a pass but Sunseri couldn’t find anyone open. Instead he found Walt pouring all 250 lb of human wrecking ball into his upper back while at the same time swatting away the football. It was a fumble and sent the near-sellout crowd at Nippert Stadium into a frenzy. Cameron Beard jumped on the ball and the UC machine just kept right on chugging adding to their lead on the very next drive. Up 14 – 0 just five minutes into their game, Cincinnati was cruising behind an offense that seemingly didn’t take a step back from last season and a defense that was aggressive as ever. Action slowed in the 2nd half but the Bearcats still strolled into halftime with a 17 – 0 lead.
And it was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The defensive struggle continue in the 3rd quarter with neither team being able to do much on offense after advancing past midfield. Pittsburgh did show signs of life with a field goal halfway through the quarter but Cincinnati quelled that little uprising just minutes later with a two-play touchdown drive that was highlighted by a 77-yard run by Munchie Legaux. At that moment the Bearcats had the game in hand as the rolled to a 34 – 10 victory. It was just the perfect night for football all the way around. The defense was suffocating and it’s clear that John Jancek is a major upgrade over Tim Banks. The one chink in the armor is the run defense, especially up the middle. I mentioned in my preview that gap control by the front 7 was critical in this game. They got away with a lot of missed tackles and overall poor technique. This will probably be the crux of the team all season.
On offense I was very pleased with Munchie Legaux’s command. He is clearly embracing his role as an upperclassmen and runs the offense well, despite a few miss-reads. Again, though, it appears his delivery is still as herky-jerky as ever. It’s improved some, as has his overall passing abilities, but his mechanics caused him to dig a handful of balls into the turf. He finished with 14/28 passing (50%) for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But Munchie has enough playmakers around him to mask his inefficiencies. First of which is senior George Winn who crossed the goalline twice tonight including the one I mentioned above. He’s proven once again what kind of a difficult back he is to bring down. Next is Ralph David Abernathy who lined up everywhere on offense, running between the tackles, taking slip screens out of the backfield, or tunnel screens from the slot. He caught both of Munchie’s touchdown passes tonight and all indications seem to be that he will be a Mardy Gilyard-like playmaker for UC in the coming years.
Overall there was quite a bit to like about this offense. Cincinnati ran the ball very well rushing for 259 yards and averaging 8.4 yards per attempt. I mentioned this offseason how the Bearcats would evolve into this type of team and it looks like this has come to fruition. Secondly I was really impressed with the pace of play. Jones and Bajakian turned up the motor on Pittsburgh early, who were constantly caught out of position which is what led to the quick 14 – 0 lead. Issues arose when Munchie started missing receivers and the offensive line stopped opening up running lanes which got the entire offense out of whack. Overall, as this unit continues to evolve into a cohesive unit it should rain death on opponents this season.
Closing this I have to mentioned how disheartened I am that this will be the last River City Rivalry game for a very long while. Like a pair of teenagers on prom night, it ended just as things were starting to get good. Hopefully Whit can work his magic and resume the series in the future but for now the gargantuan Paddlewheel Trophy will stay in Clifton.