We won! That’s fantastic news and the perfect way to start the season, especially with the nonstop banter about how depleted the Bearcats were going to be in 2012. Cincinnati lost J.K. Schaffer, Zach Collaros, and Isaiah Pead and haven’t missed a beat. Funny how coaching continuity does that for you.
If you missed my recap of the game here it is. That is a pretty top-level summary but now we can finally start getting into the nitty-gritty. And since next week will likely be a walkthrough against FCS Delaware State (i.e. no need for much pre-game analysis) there will be pa-lenty of time to breakdown all aspects of Cincinnati’s first game of the 2012 season. Without further delay let’s get to it.
The Good: Cincinnati’s Rushing Attack
While possessing a dangerous passing attack for the better part of the past five years, Cincinnati will get it done on the ground more than ever in 2012. Don’t worry, Bearcat fans, they will still be a prolific scoring machine despite not slinging it around as much this season. Think Oregon here. UC showed last night just what kind of a weapons they boast in the running game.
Starting with Munchie Legaux who seems to have a very good understanding of the zone-read offense. He misread the defensive end a couple of times but by and large did a good job, as evidenced by this 77 yard run. He also showed his elusiveness and strength despite being a 6’5″ tower. Tony Pike would be proud. Munchie’s going to break more than his fair share of ankles this season. Abernathy, too, had a nice game running the ball among his apparently hundreds of other roles on this offense. Not only was he slippery when running out of the backfield, but he was even more dangerous on screens which forced Pitt to think twice about blitzing. This only further improved the running game because Cincinnati had more time to set up their blocks and sometimes had numbers on the Panthers.
Complimenting both was George Winn. With Legaux and Abernathy working the ball outside the hashes, Winn is the ideal down-hill runner to bust the defense between the tackles. He proved it on both of his touchdowns. The first was most a factor of the offensive line dominating Pitt in the trenches and Winn using pure speed to outrun the Panthers to the endzone. The second, though, was all Winn. Initially stopped 5 yards from the goalline, the big 210 lbs back lowered his shoulder and plowed his way through to the endzone. Truck-stick to the max.
Clearly all three bring a nice wrinkle to this offenses rushing attack.
The Bad: Tackling of the Front 7
Let me preface this by giving tons of props to the defensive line and linebackers who were constantly getting in Tino Sunseri’s face. They finished with six sacks but could very well have had double that. For example Dan Giordano, who had a great game by the way, notched a half-sack but knocked Sunseri down three times. They just weren’t finishing plays! Perhaps the perfect illustration of this occurred in the middle of the second quarter with Pitt backed up on 3rd and long. Mere seconds after the Panthers snapped the ball did the pocket collapse around Sunseri. It was a five-man blitz but only three Bearcats were fully blocked. Sunseri wisely stepped up in the pocket but Cincinnati was on him quickly, grabbing him around the ankle and nearly dragging him to the ground. But the Pitt QB evaded it and, just before getting dogpiled, pitched the ball to runningback Ray Graham who motored 31 yards nearly for a touchdown.
It was those kinds of missed opportunities that haunted this defensive line all night in spite of the all around solid performance. Six sacks is nothing to sneeze at and they were pressuring Sunseri on nearly every play but Butch Jones emphasizes finishing plays and only a handful of times did the front 7 do that on Thursday night. I was particularly disappointed with the interior run defense. Coming into this game I figured UC might be vulnerable here because of the lack of size among the defensive tackles. But I thought the experienced linebackers would hide those deficiencies by displaying solid gap control. They didn’t and Pitt gashed Cincinnati between the tackles play after play. The Panther offense certainly runs the ball more than most college teams but you can bet the rest of the Big East is reviewing film of this game and preparing to attack UC up the middle as well.
The Ugly: Munchie Legaux’s Passing
Look, Munchie’s never going to be the passer Tony Pike or Gino Guidugli were. I’ve accepted that fact. I mean he could but I’m not holding out hope that it happens. Not anytime soon anyways. He showed improvement in his mechanics between UConn last December and Thursday night against Pitt but there are still gaping holes in his game. Munchie’s throwing motion is slightly more compact and taller. He didn’t throw into the back of his offensive line like he did many times in 2011 but it’s still pretty darn long and gangly. And his footwork, although also better from last season, caused him to spike a few passes into the ground. It was definitely ugly at times but Munchie got the job done, and that’s all anyone can ask of him.