Gameday is but a mere two days away. This time around the Bearcats are facing a team that has defined the term “high-powered offense” over the past few years. The Toledo Rockets are near the top of the MAC in most statistical offensive categories; 3rd in passing offense, 2nd in scoring offense, and 2nd in total offense. Cincinnati’s defense will be heavily tested on Saturday night to keep this team out of the endzone. Be prepared for the Rockets to put up some points but Cincinnati will have a much better chance of winning if they keep them within the 20 – 30 point range than conducting a shootout and letting them put up 40 or more on the board.
But keeping the Bearcats’ record unblemished won’t be easy. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past week or so you know that this matchup with the Rockets has “trap game” written all over it. Mainly you can chalk that up to Toledo’s offense but it’s also a factor of the Rockets always playing BCS teams tough and getting the Bearcats on their home turf.
UC has a slight edge in this game but unless they stick to a few essential aspects, they could be heading back to Clifton with their tails between their legs. Five keys to the game after the jump.
1) Better Communication Among the Linebackers
Zone coverage is used to optimize a defense’s ability to cover large areas of space. The uncovered space is what offenses try to exploit at every snap. The zone coverage breaks down when players aren’t communicating with each other and the Bearcats have been caught red-handed recently because of the linebackers not “passing off” receivers. In other words, when a receiver finishes running through the area of the field he responsible for (his zone) he isn’t giving the linebacker next to him the warning that the receiver is heading his way. As a result, confusion ensues as the linebackers hesitate and try to correct but it’s too late, a player is left nearly wide open with room to turn a short catch into a huge gain. Against the prolific passing attack that Toledo possesses Cincy’s linebackers must communicate with each other to ensure all receivers are accounted for.
If the Bearcats play man-to-man on Saturday, which they undoubtedly will, I’d hope like heck they swap out one of the linebackers with either of Cincinnati’s nickelbacks, Chris Williams or Aaron Roberson. As I mentioned over the Summer UC’s proclivity to play more pass-first spread offenses has increased the value of the nickelback in this defense. Well Williams and Roberson will get a chance to shine against the Toledo Rockets who sling the ball around as good as any college program. I’d expect John Jancek rolls out the nickel package over 70% of the time in an attempt to slow down the Rockets.
3) Play Within Yourself, Munchie
The Toledo Rockets don’t do a whole heck of a lot right with regards to stopping opposing offenses but they are as ball-hawking of a defense as Cincinnati will face this year. UT has the 8th most interceptions of any college football team. I don’t expect Munchie to have to hoist this team on his back and win it like against Virginia Tech. That’s a recipe for disaster against the Rockets. Instead I want him to simply manage the game like he did against Pittsburgh, Miami, and Fordham. If he keeps his completion percentage reasonable (around 50%), gets into a rhythm with his receivers, and doesn’t throw interceptions, Cincinnati will be in good shape.
4) Stay Patient With The Running Game
The key to taking Toledo’s propensity to intercept passes out of the equation is running the ball successfully. The good news is that Cincinnati is facing a run defense almost as porous as the one they took on two weeks ago against Miami. The Rockets are a fairly average team when looking at the rushing yards they give up per game. But I think that stat is deceptive. Toledo scores so frequently that opponents have no other option but to pass the ball in an attempt to play catch-up. They abandon the run early to keep up the pace. But the Rockets are surrendering 5 yards on the ground per attempt. That tells me Cincinnati should oil up George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy and run it right down their throats. If anything it will help the Bearcats control the tempo of the game which could surely get out of hand if Toledo gains the bulk of the momentum.
5) Better Redzone Efficiency
Cincinnati cannot settle for field goals against this team. The Bearcats operate a very successful offense but an area that must see marked improvement is converting redzone possessions into touchdowns. Currently UC is crossing the goal line just 60% of the time they find themselves in the redzone. That’s just horrible for an offense that is so explosive in many other areas. But for whatever reason (I think it’s the coaches getting too cute near the goal line) the Bearcats aren’t getting touchdowns with a short field. Well they will have to this week because the Rockets will most likely not settle for field goals themselves.
Big East Games – 2012 Record: 25 – 9 (73.5%)
Syracuse vs. UConn: Loser gets to kick their coach to the curb? Seriously, this could be a make or break game for Doug Marrone and Paul Pasqualoni. If they don’t dig their teams out of the hole quickly they could be looking at an unemployment line next Spring. And even though both teams are in disarray, I think it’s the Orange who come out on top as Ryan Nassib’s arm awakens yet again. Syracuse 27, UConn 14
Temple vs. Rutgers: I’ve liked the show the Owls have put on the past couple of weeks but the USF Bulls and UConn Huskies are no where near as talented and well coached as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Temple has been a nice story in the Big East so far but their conference win streak stops at a two this week. Rutgers 38, Temple 10
Louisville vs. South Florida: The Cardinals best not be looking past USF this week in anticipation of their Keg of Nails game with our Cincinnati Bearcats. I could see UL stubbing their toe this week but the Bulls are a really, really bad team right now. And the Cardinals get them at home in, probably, a pretty raucous environment. Cards win. Louisville 42, South Florida 27
Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh: Lord help Pitt fans if they lose to the Buffalo Bulls this week. The Panthers are coming off of a tough loss to Syracuse last week. Talent-wise Pitt has the clear advantage. But I’m not so sure about this team. Everytime I feel like I have them figured out they lose to Youngstown State or beat a ranked Virginia Tech. I’ll say they win this week, though. Pittsburgh 30, Buffalo 13