Two days until the biggest game of the season thus far for Cincinnati. It should be a good one that pits two fairly evenly-matched teams against each other. As we’ve learned in the initial Q&A, the Hokies have been an up-and-down team this season. They’ve been a little shaky on offense and noticeably better on defense. Sound familiar? The Bearcats too have been unpredictable on offense but extremely solid on the opposite side of the ball.
I’ll get to the details of the match up in a bit but I think the difference maker in this game will be Cincinnati’s running game, which has been the one consistently stellar aspect of the offense, against Virginia Tech’s run defense, which has been inconsistent. Overall I mentioned that the Bearcats can upset the Hokies. There are a few things working against them but if UC were to win on Saturday I think we’ll be pointing to the Bearcats’ success on the ground as the main reason why.
All five keys to the game after the jump.
1) Attack Attack Attack
Virginia Tech is replacing four starters on the offensive line and so far have surrendered an average of two sacks per game which is T-75th nationally. That’s good news for the Bearcats who are a little on the light side in the middle of the their defensive line and could benefit from facing an inexperienced OL. What’s even better is they have a creative and, more importantly, aggressive defensive coordinator in John Jancek who has an endless reserve of blitzes he can dial up. The icing on the cake is Walter Stewart is one of the best pass rushers in the Big East, if not the best. He should be licking his chops heading into Saturday. But the key is attacking this offensive line from start to finish.
2) Wrap Up
Being aggressive on defense can be all for naught if the Bearcats fail to wrap up the quarterback. We saw in 2010 just how painfully effective a quarterback can be when Cincinnati can’t bring him down and lets him run in space. I’m speaking of course of NC State’s Russell Wilson who torched the Bearcats to the tune of 333 yards and three touchdowns that night. Now Wilson is almost a night and day quarterback to Logan Thomas, who more resembles Ben Roethlisberger in size and ‘elusiveness’, but UC can’t afford to allow him to stay on his feet. Cincinnati has had issues finishing plays on defense this year and giving Thomas more time will increase his chances of finding an open receiver or scrambling for a first down.
3) Decent Rushing Defense
Unlike last time Cincinnati faced them, the Virginia Tech Hokies aren’t much on running the ball this year. I guess that’s what happens when you’re trying to get four new players on the offensive line as well as brand new runningbacks to gel. VT currently ranks 83rd in rushing offense and this is after they gashed Bowling Green for 246 yards on the ground last weekend. So UC doesn’t need to be at the top of their game to stop the Hokie running attack this time around but they should still make it a priority to keep them one-dimensional. Virginia Tech doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of options in the passing game and stopping the run will go a long way to getting the Hokies to spin their wheels on offense.
4) Run Like Their Lives Depend On It
The Bearcats have a good thing going in the three-headed monster of Munchie Legaux, George Winn, and Ralph David Abernathy. The also boast a very talented offensive line who are running the zone blocking schemes to a tee this season. Combined they are generating the 12th best rushing attack in the country averaging 259 yards on the ground per game. The fact that Cincinnati is facing a running defense ranked 93rd nationally and you can see why the Bearcats should run the ball about 60-75% of the time on Saturday. There is a lot of talent in the backfield and the coaches should make the most of out them.
5) Play Smart
It’s simple. The Bearcats rank 96th in turnover margin with -1 per game and are giving away 46 yards per game in penalties (43rd). By the rankings the former is more discouraging than the latter. But considering one of Cincinnati’s two opponents was an FCS team and the data looks more depressing. Add onto that the fact that Virginia Tech is by far the most talented, well-coached team UC has faced this season and it becomes exponentially more important to cut down on turnovers, not commit stupid penalties, and overall stay focused. The Bearcats can’t afford to commit six turnovers like they did against Delaware State or seven penalties like they did against Pitt. The Hokies will capitalize on Cincinnati’s mistakes much easier than the previous two opponents. Playing sound football has to be emphasized this week.
Big East Games – 2012 Record: 18 – 7 (72.0%)
UConn vs. Buffalo: After they lost to Western Michigan last Saturday I’m not sure what to make of the Huskies this season. Sure they’ve always displayed issues at quarterback but I expected them to play better defense than they showed last week against the Broncos. Luckily the Buffalo Bulls aren’t nearly as talented as the previous MAC opponent and the Huskies should get the win this weekend. UConn 21, Buffalo 13
South Florida vs. Florida State: If not for this game Cincinnati – Virginia Tech would be the most important game for the Big East this weekend. Unfortunately I don’t think it will be nearly as interesting. USF started the season strong but have dropped their past two games in embarrassing fashion. Florida State however is looking like the Seminoles teams we’ve seen in the early 2000′s. Despite homefield advantage, I can’t see the Bulls winning this one but the emotions of this matchup might make it close. Florida State 31, South Florida 24
Southern Miss vs. Louisville: During the Larry Fedora era the Golden Eagles might have upset the Cardinals. Post-Fedora USM is a mess. Coaching changes are a bitch to deal with, amirite, UC fans? So as it directly pertains to this game, Louisville should do work against the Golden Eagles despite playing on the road. Louisville 38, Southern Miss 14