Oct 5, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats running back Tion Green (7) runs with the ball as South Florida Bulls linebacker Reshard Cliett (16) defends during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. South Florida Bulls defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

South Florida 26, Cincinnati 20: Where Do I Begin...

Oct 5, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville talks with associate head coach Robert Prunty and teammates against the South Florida Bulls during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. South Florida Bulls defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Bearcats lost to the previously winless (and quite frankly listless) South Florida Bulls on Saturday night 26-20. I’ve given myself about 48 hours to collect myself and put some thoughts together that didn’t lead us down the road of firing the coaches and packing up the program. If you’ve perused some of the UC message boards over the last couple of days, that’s what some pessimistic fans would have you believe is the best option, the only option, right now.

But cooler heads prevail. Hopefully the thoughts below reflect the most rational observations from Saturday’s events and where we go from here.

I have no idea what’s wrong with Brendon Kay. I can’t put my finger on it but since the first snap against Miami (OH), Cincinnati’s starting quarterback has just looked “off”. After two questionable performances, I’ve been leaning towards three possible reasons why Kay has played so poorly:

  1. He doesn’t fully understand Eddie Gran’s passing plays
  2. He doesn’t fully trust his abilities
  3. He doesn’t fully trust his offensive line

Now, those are just hypotheses at this point but I’m inclined to believe that one, two, or a combination of all three are floating around in Brendon Kay’s head whenever he takes a snap. Additionally, I’m not sure which is easiest and quickest to fix. Probably #3, as better OL play will instill immediate faith in the UC quarterback. But #1 and #2 are intrinsically tied together and not so easy to fix. It’s a confidence issue and one that could take several successful passes, drives, and games to see a defined turnaround.

This one’s on the coaches. I’ll give them credit, unlike against Miami (OH) or Illinois the players came out as energized as in any game this year. But beyond that, Cincinnati just looked unprepared against South Florida, essentially unsure what to do when the Bulls threw different blitzes and defensive schemes at them. That goes on Tuberville, Gran, etc. for not spending enough time in the film room or focusing on the wrong aspects of the South Florida defense.

Plus the coaches made some questionable calls on Saturday. The worst, in my opinion, occurred with Cincinnati driving into the South Florida redzone with about 7 minutes to play and down two scores. On 4th and inches the coaches took a timeout to deliberate the situation then opted to run the ball out of the pistol formation. Almost as soon as Tion Green took the handoff, he was swallowed up in the backfield, turning the ball over on downs. Why Cincinnati 1) took a timeout and 2) used that timeout to come up with a terrible playcall is beyond me. It was 4th and inches for goodness sake! Just put Kay under center and have him lean forward for a first down! Not. That. Difficult. The Bearcats wound up scoring on the next drive but it was too late.

They may have finally found a offensive line composition that works. Cincinnati’s OL has been reeling from the loss of senior center Dan Sprague as well as a slew of injuries among the starters. Plus their inability to learn a variety of new blocking schemes in just a few months has been painfully evident this year. Obviously both problems are through no fault of their own but it goes without saying that the poor performance of front five has caused the entire offense to sputter this season. But it looks like the coaches have found a combination that works.

In the fourth quarter the Bearcats went with an offensive that, from left to right, consisted of Eric Lefeld, Austen Bujnoch, Sam Longo, Andre Cureton, and Parker Ehinger. Longo replaced redshirt freshman Deyshawn Bond at center and Cureton took Longo’s place at right guard. And it seemed to work! After gaining just 206 yards in the first three quarters, the Bearcats gained 144 yards in the fourth quarter alone. We will probably see that 5-man combination going forward.

Poor contain on defense. On three critical third downs, Cincinnati’s defense allowed backup quarterback Bobby Eveld rush for 8 yards, 9 yards, and 14 yards for first downs. Additionally, the Bearcats defense allowed backup runningback Michael Pierre to gash them for 61 yards on 16 carries. The offense certainly wasn’t providing any favors but the defense didn’t help itself by breaking contain and allowing for a couple of second stringers to beat them.

Otherwise, an excellent defensive performance. Cincinnati didn’t allow South Florida to score an offensive touchdown. That by definition is a grade-A performance. It’s just a shame that UC’s offense and special teams screwed the pooch on Saturday night. In any case, after surrendering 45 points to Illinois, the Bearcat defense has allowed just 1 touchdown in the last three games. Sure Miami (OH), Northwestern State, and South Florida are no Baylor offensively but Cincinnati’s D has lived up to their preseason hype the last few games. They will face some tougher tests in Houston, Rutgers, and Louisville later in the season but right now they are one of the shining spots on this team.

Give Tion Green a chance. For the entire non-conference slate and most of the game on Saturday, Eddie Gran had opted for a two-man rotation at runningback. Ralph David Abernathy and Hosey Williams split carries during this time and it’s worked fairly well. But the only time that the Bearcats ran the ball consistently against USF was when Green was toting the rock in the fourth quarter. That can’t just be a coincidence. Green was criticized by his coaches for having less-than-stellar technique when running with the football. Thus he was the third man in behind Abernathy and Williams. It seems Green has corrected those issues and gotten in the good graces of Tuberville and Gran.

In theory a rotation at runningback can work. Heck, Southern-Cal has done it with success for years, albeit with the top recruits in the country. And like I mentioned it’s worked well for Cincinnati this season. But going forward I’d like to see Green get an opportunity to contribute as the starting runningback in the coming weeks. At the very least he should be inserted on 10-15 straight plays to allow him to get into a rhythm.

If there’s not a kicker controversy, there should be. Put as bluntly as possible, Tony Miliano was awful on Saturday. Just putrid. I know that comes off as harsh but he’s really been making the same mistakes he has for the last few seasons. Not only was his field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown because the trajectory on the ball was so low, which has been a problem for a while now, but he shanked an extra point and booted a kickoff out of bounds for a penalty. As a junior, Miliano looks like he’s plateaued, continuing his ominous trend of low field goal kicks and inaccurate, short kickoffs. As of now I would give preferred walk-on Andrew Gantz a shot. He should be eligible to play this season since he technically never signed any paperwork with Tennessee before switching his commitment to Cincinnati. If the coaches don’t opt to turn the starting place kicking job over to Gantz right away, they should at least give him 50% of the reps in practice to evaluate he and Milano side-by-side.

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