UC got the win but I certainly don’t feel better about this team after the game than I did before. In fact, I feel worse. After the highs of a 24 point win over rival Pittsburgh last Thursday I now question major positions of this team. To make it simple, I’ll roll through the pre-game keys and evaluate from that how Cincinnati performed against them:
1) Avoid Injuries: Ok, we did this right. Corey Mason was sent to the locker room early in the first half but by-and-large Cincinnati escaped unscathed.. except emotionally.
2) Better Passing Efficiency: Sort of. Munchie boasted a 74% completion percentage but threw two very, very bad interceptions and nearly had two more.
3) Own The Middle: Again, sort of. Runningback Malcolm Williams had a solid night with 120 yards on the ground including a 60 yard run. Overall the Bearcats got nary a push up the middle. Keep in mind, this was against an FCS offensive line.
4) Clean Up The Mental Mistakes: Nope. Cincinnati only had 3 penalties on the night but had six (6) ((6!!!!!)) turnovers and looked fazed by their opponent.
5) Bring Up The Newbies: Hell no. Most of the Bearcats’ starters were in the game in the fourth quarter primarily because they didn’t put the Hornets away at halftime. With the way this team played the starters needed as many reps as they could get.
I’m not sure if this was a case of the team playing down to their opponent but the Bearcats looked unprepared and appeared to desire their beds more than the football field tonight. Six turnovers is unacceptable regardless of the opponent and especially for a team with so little margin for error. Munchie Legaux took a major step back tonight despite the 74% completion percentage. The defense also let Delaware State hang around. It didn’t come back to bite them in the box score but the Bearcats didn’t display that killer instinct that we have come to expect from a Butch Jones-coached team.
Okay, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Cincinnati did win. That’s a good thing. I continue to be impressed with runningback George Winn who is an absolute beast out of the backfield. We all knew he had tremendous downhill abilities but Winn displayed the shiftiness and wiggle many times shown by Isaiah Pead. The Bearcats also got solid performances out of their playmakers. Ralph David Abernathy again impressed, Anthony McClung looked tremendous in a punt return role, and it was nice seeing Shaq Washington mesh in this offense. The best feel-good story from tonight was that of Dominique Battle. After rehabbing yet another knee injury the senior took quite a few reps at safety and performed well. I definitely shed a smile or two seeing #9 on the field once again.
Yes there were some encouraging signs from tonight but I still feel uneasy about this team.
Overall I’m coming up with more questions than answers for the Bearcats. Will Munchie take that next step? Can this team stretch a defense horizontally? Is the interior run defense going to improve?
The good news is that they have two weeks to figure out these problems that seemingly arose overnight. At least, in the week-or-so since playing nearly perfect football against the Pitt Panthers. The bad news is their next opponent is Virginia Tech, a team far superior in talent and coaching than Delaware State. And the game will essentially be played on the road. The silver lining is that the Hokies aren’t looking sharp themselves. They survived an overtime thriller against Georgia Tech on opening weekend and got pasted by the previously mentioned Pitt Panthers earlier this afternoon.
It will be an epic clash on September 29th and the Hokies look very beatable. But Cincinnati will need a far better performance than they displayed tonight to pull that off. Still, I have complete faith in this coaching staff to prepare this team to take down Virginia Tech in a hostile environment two weeks from today.