It’s Keg of Nails week and Munchie Legaux got it off on the wrong foot by stirring the pot with his comment to the media about how he thought he was “better” than Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. When I first got wind of the story I had assumed that a Cincinnati media person asked a question to lead Munchie into an answer that would create unneeded drama around the game. Because you know, that’s what Cincinnati media does.
But when I read the full transcript provided by Andrew Force at Bearcat Report, UC’s Rivals site, that doesn’t appear to be the case. As you can see, Munchie is barely baited into giving such an answer but he does so anyway. It will hardly create a stir among the teams themselves but what concerns me the most is that ESPN (this game got moved to primetime, by the way) will most certainly take this storyline and run with it. My fear is that it will take away from the stories already crafted by the history of this great rivalry.
And that would be a damn shame.
Let’s get to the final Keg of Nails prep, though. For once I’m going to try to be organized with these keys to the game going top-down by looking at an overall gameplan before diving into the specifics.
1) Keep it Close into the 2nd Half
Louisville has a nasty habit of getting off to hot starts and cooling off just as quickly. In the 1st half of games Louisville is outscoring opponents by 57 points but in the 2nd half they are only outscoring them by 17, a swing of 40 points! Conversely the Bearcats have been known to start slow and finish strong. UC is outscoring opponents by 51 points in the 1st half and 56 points in the 2nd half. The Cardinals might jump out to a quick lead but the Bearcats’ ability to storm back in the 2nd half will make for an interesting 4th quarter. If Cincinnati can maintain a lead in the first half or at least stay on the heels of Louisville they will have a strong shot at winning this game.
2) Make the Crowd a Non-Factor
Like I mentioned above Munchie made a very questionable comment to the press this week. It’s been bouncing around message boards and blogs for the past few days and surely are going to give the 55,000 at Papa John’s stadium a target to cohesively bark at tomorrow night. That will further be amplified if Louisville jumps out to a huge lead early. In essence Cincinnati should approach this game like they did against Virginia Tech and FedEx Field. There was a large contingent of Hokie fans there and it was a pseudo-away game for the Bearcats. But VT stumbled early thanks to a strong Cincinnati defense as well as the ‘Cats controlling the tempo of the 1st half. The crowd at FedEx Field was quieted early, never really able to back the Hokies, and UC should make this a goal Friday night.
3) Take the Ball out of Munchie’s Hands
We’re talking passing game here, folks. I found it outrageous that Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian elected to call 36 passing plays (37 if you count Brendan Kay’s) last week against Toledo. Not only is that strategy for that particular opponent questionable (the Rockets are among the most pick-happy teams in the country) but making Munchie Legaux pass the ball 36 times is not playing to his strengths. This is a run-first team. At least it should be considering the powerful runningback tandem of George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy, UC’s massive offensive line, and the explosiveness of Munchie’s legs. All three factors have caused the Bearcats to rank 6th in the nation in rushing yards per attempt (5.89) and 16th in rushing yards per game (226). This season Cincinnati cannot be successful with their quarterback passing it more than 20 or 25 times each game especially when they boast such an effective running game.
4) Exploit One-on-One Matchups
If there’s one thing that has defined the Louisville defense since Charlie Strong took over, and his defense since his time at Florida, it’s that they blitz. A lot. Expect to see the Cardinals dial up blitzes at the rate or more frequently than Virginia Tech three weeks ago. They understand the scouting report on Munchie (below-average passer, makes mistakes under duress) and will send extra guys to expose that. But on the backend Cincinnati has the opportunity to exploit Louisville themselves. In tandem with those blitzes expect to see plenty of man-to-man pass coverage from the Cardinals. This could work in UC’s favor because of the talent they possess in Kenbrell Thompkins, Damon Julian, Anthony McClung, RDA IV when he’s in the slot, and recently tight end Travis Kelce. One or more of these ‘Cats are going to get open in this situation and it will be up to Munchie deliver the ball quickly to these playmakers. Can he stand in the pocket and make the necessary passes like he did against Virginia Tech? Or will Munchie fold like he did against Toledo? Well that remains to be seen…
5) Squeeze Teddy
Flustering Teddy Bridgewater is easier said than done. At this point in time you’d probably have a better chance at rattling Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers than the Louisville quarterback. That’s just how well he’s been playing this year. Bridgewater leads the Big East in completion percentage, hitting his receivers with 3 out of every 4 passes. Even more so he keeps the chains moving, completing over half of his 3rd down passing attempts for 1st downs. He’s the epitome of efficiency from the quarterback position right now and is quite frankly making quarterbacking a college football team look easy. But Bridgewater will be taking on the best defense he has faced all season on Friday night. I’ve mentioned this time and time again that John Jancek is extremely creative with his personnel and it’s been very successful over the past two seasons. Expect him to paint a masterpiece against the Cardinals bringing pressure, throwing three DT or DE on the line at once, and rolling out the “Joker” Package consistently even with Walter Stewart MIA.
Big East Games – 2012 Record: 29 – 9 (76.3%) – Woo hoo! A clean sweep of last week’s games.
Pittsburgh vs. Temple: The Panthers return to conference play this week after beating the Buffalo Bulls on the road last week in some unwelcoming weather. But they gets the Owls this time around who were humbled in a 35 – 10 loss to the Scarlet Knights at home last week. Temple started off their Big East play nicely but I think their MAC-level depth is starting to catch up to them and the Panthers will surely take advantage of that. Pittsburgh 31, Temple 20
Rutgers vs. Kent State: The Scarlet Knights should be on upset watch with how the Big East (Cincinnati included, SMH) has fared against MAC opponents. And Kent State is playing extremely well this year. But Rutgers is a top-tier Big East team with enough talent on both sides of the ball to prevent the trap. They win again! Rutgers 45, Kent State 24
South Florida vs. Syracuse: Believe it or not the Orange still have their Big East and bowl hopes alive after stomping UConn last week. But they will be facing an extremely motivated opponent in a Bulls squad that surrendered a late lead to Louisville. Plus they get Syracuse at home and are playing better than they had in the beginning of the season. I’ll take USF in a slight upset. South Florida 33, Syracuse 27