The Bearcats take on a South Florida team this week that mirrors Cincinnati in a number of ways. They have stars at numerous key positions, their front seven could be/should be among the best in the conference, and they are having a year mired in inconsistencies. The only difference is that UC has been able to mask them with relatively better performances from the quarterback position and younger plays stepping up and thriving in starting roles.
The Bulls haven’t been so fortunate. After toying with three different quarterbacks to start the season, new USF head coach Will Taggart has finally settled on sophomore Steven Bench as his signal caller for this week. But I doubt that instills much confidence in the Bulls faithful. Bench has yet to pass for over 200 yards in a game this season and his competition percentage sits at 41.2% for the season. Plus his touchdown/interception ratio isn’t all that impressive. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like South Florida has adjusted to the new staff’s schemes like the Bearcats. Now, Cincinnati has problems of their own on that front but definitely not to the extent of what’s occurring at USF.
Two similar teams who have dealt with adversity if far different ways. Let’s get to the keys to the game.
1) First And Foremost, Stop The Run
By the numbers, the South Florida Bulls appear to be a balanced football team, skewing just a hair towards the run. One would believe that’s the type of split they’d like to use each and every game. Not true. This is a run-first football team and have passed the ball more often in their games because they fall behind so quickly heading into the second half. Just take a look at these splits. In the first half, South Florida runs the ball about 64% of the time but after halftime, and chasing to catch up, the Bulls have run it just 39% of the time. USF wants to pound the rock, utilizing talented tailback Marcus Shaw. If the Bearcats can bottle him up, South Florida really won’t have many other options on offense.
2) If Art Kaufman Has Any New Schemes In His Playbook, Now Is The Time To Use Them
Tommy Tuberville has claimed that Cincinnati will roll out some new stuff in conference play. On defense, there is no better time than now to use them. The situation is perfect. The Bearcats face an inexperienced quarterback who has a handful of reps under his belt and basically zero playmakers around him. UC has been pretty, let’s call it “tame”, with their blitz packages this fall. Kaufman has relied heavily on the defensive line to create pressure. The results have been a mixed bag. But this week if he was toying with new schemes and wants to test out their effectiveness, implementing them against a quarterback who’s barely graduated high school is a low risk, high reward scenario.
3) Make It Easy For Them
I’m not talking about the Bearcats going easy on the Bulls. That’s ludicrous. I hope Cincinnati pounds those beach-going, fun-in-the-sun bastards into the dust on Saturday. I’m talking about Eddie Gran dumbing down the offense enough to allow Brendon Kay and the offensive line to get into a rhythm early. We saw last week how “lost” both Kay and his blockers looked against Miami and it showed in the box score. And let me tell you the front seven Cincinnati faces this week will be far and away more talented than the one that beat UC numerous times two weeks ago in Oxford. The first 10-15 passing plays should allow Kay to get the ball out of his hands quickly on simple routes like slants, curls, stags, and crosses. That will not only take pressure off the offensive line but allow the Bearcats quarterback to get his feet under him, something that never seemed to happen two weeks ago.
4) Continue Intelligent Use Of Cincy’s Two-Headed Monster
The Bearcats have the luxury of two runningbacks who are equally dangerous and compliment each other nicely. Ralph David Abernathy is the scat-back, who can pick up chunks of yardage in the open field and juke defenders out of their jocks. Hosey Williams is the between-the-tackles back who can ground out tough yards in the middle of the field. And in the last couple of games, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has done a nice job utilizing their skillsets. I know some fervent corners of the fanbase believe he’s inept but from what I’ve seen that isn’t the case. Gran gives most of the snaps where he intends to run up the middle to Williams and the outside runs/screens to Abernathy. He mixes and matches every now and then to keep the defense honest but for the most part the two runningbacks have established roles. Keep that going!
5) Clean Up The Penalties
Since playing basically pristine football against Purdue in week 1, the Bearcats have been flagged an average of 9 times for 84 yards in their games since then. That’s free yardage Cincinnati is giving to their opponents. This trend isn’t healthy for the longevity of this team and could come back to bite them at some point this season. I know UC has undergone a rash of injuries and younger players who are more prone to penalties have been thrust into starting roles. But still, the Bearcats need to clean these up.
AAC Games – 2013 Record: 26 – 7 (78.8%) – Yup, UConn lost, even though they shouldn’t have.
Temple v. Louisville: Oh man, this could be ugly. The one advantage Temple holds in this game is that they get the Cardinals at home. But after losing to Idaho and with the way the Cardinals are playing, the Owls could be out of this one by halftime. Plus Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong have had an extra week to prepare for Temple. That spells ouch time for the Owls. Louisville 48, Temple 17
SMU v. Rutgers: I badly want to say this is a trap game for the Scarlet Knights but Southern Methodist just hasn’t been very good this season. Like Temple, they get a stronger opponent at home this weekend but that’s about the only thing that gives them an advantage on Saturday. Rutgers is 3-1 and a failed two-point conversion away from being undefeated. Bottom line, the Scarlet Knights are just better. Rutgers 38, SMU 14
Memphis v. Central Florida: Last weekend the Knights were unable to put a feather in the AAC’s cap with a loss to 12th ranked South Carolina. But it wasn’t for lack of effort. Blake Bortles still looks like he could give Teddy Bridgewater a run for the title of the conference’s best quarterback. The good news for Memphis is that they’ve looked better in recent weeks and got a bye to prepare for UCF. But like in the previous games featuring overmatched opponents, the Knights are simply a better team. Central Florida 48, Memphis 23