After the first loss of the season, to a MAC team no less, the Cincinnati fanbase was up in arms and rightfully so. The Bearcats as a team played their worst game since Rutgers in 2011. Before getting into this I have to give the Rockets their due. They outcoached and outplayed the Bearcats all night long. But UC didn’t help themselves and that’s what made us as fans so frustrated. What irks me is that most of that outrage was sent in the direction of quarterback Munchie Legaux.
It’s ignorant to direct our anger at just one person. Munchie bore the brunt of the criticism after Saturday’s loss but I can reel off 4 other aspects that cost Cincinnati the game. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be blamed at all. He does and I give Munchie his fair share of the verbal assault in the upcoming piece. But there are 110 other players on the roster and a laundry list of coaches who all had a hand in the Bearcats losing on Saturday night.
Let the finger pointing begin.
The blame first and foremost falls on the shoulders of Cincinnati’s starting quarterback. Sometimes the backlash directed towards #4 is unjustified but for the most part the criticisms from Saturday night, outside of the vulgar ones, were warranted. That comes with the territory of being a starting quarterback on a D1, then undefeated, then ranked football team. In wins he earns most of the praise and in defeat he garners the bulk of the blame.
On Saturday night Legaux was terrible. There’s no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. He completed just 42% of his passes for just 227 yards. That’s not the end of the story, though. Normally I can forgive weaker quarterback numbers if he made sound judgements for most of the night but that was far from the case against Toledo. Legaux threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown early in the game. The second occurred on the final drive and sealed the victory for the Rockets. He nearly had a third pick in the 4th quarter on an underthrown ball to a wide open Kenbrell Thompkins in the corner of the endzone. It was one of the worst performances from the UC quarterback in his career.
I’m one of the biggest proponents of Munchie but Saturday night was the first time I truly questioned his ability to lead this offense.
Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian
The buck doesn’t stop at Munchie, though. I’m calling out parts of the coaching staff here. For whatever reason as the Bearcats piled up yards on the ground, Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian turned off the switch and decided that going with an aerial attack would lead to success. It didn’t obviously. The Bearcats passed the ball 17 times in the second half to 10 runs. During that time Cincinnati was never more than 6 points behind the Rockets. Why the sense of urgency? It wasn’t like Cincinnati was down by multiple touchdowns and needed to score quickly to get back into the game. They were already in the game!
Furthermore Cincinnati was having huge success on the ground. The Bearcats rushed for 162 yards in the first half averaging over 7 yards per carry. And that doesn’t even include the 25 yarder and 16 yarder negated by Kenbrell Thompkins’ and Travis Kelce’s holding penalties (more on them in a bit). So why go away from it?
Here’s my main issue. Munchie Legaux isn’t a good passer right now. He might develop into one at some point in his career but he’s not there at this point in his development. That fact cannot be argued and I’m certainly not going to refute it. Jones and Bajakian have to know that as well. As such they should know that Munchie Legaux (or the offense as a whole) can’t be successful when he’s being asked to throw the ball 36 times. Ever. Cincy is one of the best teams in the nation running the football and the Bearcats should have never gotten as pass happy as they did down just 3 points with almost nine minutes left in the 4th quarter.
And that decision essentially sums up Jones and Bajakian’s failures on Saturday night.
The Front Seven
The only beef I had with the defense on Saturday was along the defensive line and among the linebackers. The secondary was spectacular holding Toledo to zero passing touchdowns and creating a few coverage sacks. But otherwise against the passing game the defensive line got little pressure. It could have been a factor of the Bearcats missing Walter Stewart but I think it’s the size (or lack there of) of the front four catching up to them. Toledo boasts a pretty solid offensive line however I expected a better performance from this unit who got outright manhandled on Saturday night.
Another issue is that they were not only manhandled in the passing game but running game as well, the latter of which has recently been Cincinnati’s strength. Toledo reeled off 229 yards on the ground with David Fluellen picking up 6.4 yards per carry. Now he’s a very good runningback but UC made it easy on him by not getting off their blocks (defensive line) and not covering their gaps (linebackers). And their tackling was suspect as it has been since the Pitt game which led to quite a few of Terrance Owens’ long scampers. Overall, a disappointing performance from the front seven.
Special Teams Blunder
If you were wondering about why Cincinnati’s kickoffs weren’t sailing through the endzone at Toledo like they had been all season it’s not because the Bearcats and Rockets were playing in hurricane conditions. It’s because the coaching staff inadvertently swapped out the powerful leg of Pat O’Donnell for the relatively weaker leg of Tony Miliano. The questionable move seemed even more idiotic considering Toledo’s Bernard Reedy had returned a kickoff for a touchdown the week prior against Eastern Michigan. And it was proven asinine when he took one to the house near the end of the 3rd quarter to answer a Cincinnati score just moments earlier.
Nice going, UC coaches. I’m not exactly sure what O’Donnell did to get booted from his kickoff role but this player change certainly didn’t help Cincinnati win on Saturday night. I’m also not sure what message the coaches were trying to send but if anything I’m sure it had the opposite effect. If I’m Pat O’Donnell right now I’m gleaming knowing that I’m a key cog in Cincinnati’s success on kickoffs.
More Costly Penalties
No fan likes to see their team shoot themselves in the foot with penalties but it seems like this year Cincinnati has been especially sloppy in this area. The Bearcats are averaging 6 penalties and 54 penalty yards per game which is outrageous for a team with a coaching staff that emphasizes sound play. And on Saturday night it cost them. Two stick out in my mind.
This first was early in the second quarter with Cincinnati driving. On second and short, Munchie reeled off an exciting 25 yard gain. But a hold on Kenbrell Thompkins backed the Bearcats up to the Toledo 23 yard line when it should have been 1st and 10 on the Toledo 13. The second was later in that same quarter with UC deep in it’s own territory. With Cincinnati still controlling the ground game, George Winn made a nice outside run up the sidelines for 16 yards placing the Bearcats near Rocket territory. However it was negated by a Travis Kelce hold. In both cases Cincinnati had to settle for field goals.
I’m not singling out Thompkins and Kelce as there have been penalty issues with this team all season, as reflected in the stat two paragraphs above. They are clearly drive killers and this propensity for mistakes was exposed against the Rockets.
So when pointing fingers remember that there are a number of players and coaches who have a hand in any Cincinnati Bearcat win and Cincinnati Bearcat loss. Munchie Legaux, the coaches, the defensive line, the linebackers, the special teams unit, and a multitude of penalties were all responsible for the loss against Toledo. It was a sloppy game all around as the Bearcats left the Glass Bowl with their tails between their legs.
For now the onus is on the coaching staff to get their team ready for the clash against the Louisville Cardinals on Friday night. Can they rebound? Absolutely they can, but this loss to Toledo stings. Let’s hope it doesn’t haunt the Bearcats throughout the season.
Snap and clear, right Butch?