On Saturday at noon on ESPNU the Cincinnati Bearcats will host the UConn Huskies on homecoming. Given the festivities surrounding the game, I’d expect the crowd to be mighty rawrsome despite the 12 pm kickoff. The UC offense was extremely efficient last week, implementing a condensed offensive strategy to pick apart the Temple Owls defense with short passes. Likewise, the Bearcats’ defense again held strong despite a slew of missed tackles and missed assignments in the secondary during the first half. Overall though it was an encouraging win.
But UConn is no Temple. While they are reeling from a mid-season coaching change and have issues along the defensive line, quarterback, and wide receiver, the talent level on the Huskies football team is a step above the Owls. Think of them at the level at or around the South Florida Bulls, who gave Cincinnati all kinds of headaches just two weeks ago. It’s their performance in that game why the Bearcats can’t rest on their laurels against this AAC opponent or any conference foe going forward. Let’s hope an expectedly large crowd can again focus this team.
The five keys to the game as follows.
Cut Down On The Penalties
Over the last few weeks I’ve been ignoring this issue or only speaking about it in passing because penalties are typically not contagious week to week. But, aside from Purdue and South Florida the Bearcats have been plagued with penalties in their games this year. It has become a week to week issue for this team. On Friday against Temple a deep pass to Anthony McClung near the endzone and a floater to Chris Moore up the sidelines were both negated due to penalties. Both would have added another 70 yards to Cincinnati’s total and likely resulted in points. Overall the Bearcats were penalized 11 times for 105 yards and are currently 105th nationally getting flagged 7.5 times per game. This has to be cleaned up against UConn and because it’s a recurring issue, is why it’s key #1 this week.
Continue Condensed, Uptempo Offense
Tommy Tuberville mentioned that the short passing game complimented with an uptempo offense was utilized against Temple because it was the best way to attack their particular defense. Implementing it going forward would be determined on an opponent by opponent basis. But I think the Bearcats need to make this their fundamental style for the remainder of the season, regardless of the type of defense they face. With Brendon Kay and the offensive line still processing Eddie Gran’s new offense and recovering from injuries, simpler schemes with a faster pace only makes sense. In essence, it’s really the only style that has worked for the Bearcats offensive to date.
It would be ideal for Cincinnati unleash this against UConn, in particular. The Huskies are stingy on the deep ball, ranking 4th nationally in passing plays allowed of 10 yards or more. The way to beat this defense is by dinking and dunking them to death.
Unleash The Green Machine
For the first time this season offensive coordinator Eddie Gran abandoned the two-runningback system, opting to give Tion Green the bulk of the carries against Temple. He proved what kind of raw talent he truly is with a 91 yard, 2 touchdown performance. Given his rare combination of size and speed, I’d like to see the young runningback get the majority of the carries going forward. Green could become a staple for this offense in the years to come and if he keeps up this pace against UConn it would go a long way to solidifying his role on this team for the rest of his career in Cincinnati.
As has been the case for the better part of the past decade, UConn boasts studs in the backfield. I’m not sure what they put in the water up there in Storrs but it seems like year after year the Huskies just produce really, really excellent runningbacks. Weird. Statistically Lyle McCombs is on pace for his best season since his freshman year. Now, the junior isn’t necessarily a “large” runningback but he plays bigger than his size and runs hard on every play. Plus his offensive line is typically among the larger, more talented position groups in the country, which makes it easier for him. McCombs’ raw numbers don’t look too terribly impressive but believe you me this is a game-changing runningback who the Bearcats must keep in check on Saturday.
Keep UConn Out Of The Redzone
Connecticut’s offense is down right terrible in most areas but one aspect that they can hang their hat on is their ability to score every time they enter the opponent’s redzone. UConn has literally converted 100% of their redzone trips into points. That’s video game-like efficiency. Yes, they’ve only made 10 trips to the redzone this season so they aren’t exactly threatening to score at a Baylor-like pace but the fact that they haven’t fumbled or thrown an interception in this area of the field is impressive. This is definitely something the Bearcats should prep for on Saturday, perhaps by rescheming the defense to show UConn’s offense different looks in the redzone compared to what they show in the previous 80 yards. Of course, most defense make those transitions naturally so, admittedly, this could be proven pointless against the Huskies.
AAC Games – 2013 Record – 32 – 7 (82.1%): Another perfect week!
Louisville v. Central Florida: One week after the Cardinals survived Rutgers, they will now have to face perhaps their toughest test of the season in the Knights. Led by stellar quarterback Blake Bortles, UCF has had an impressive season and was a few bad plays away from upsetting ranked South Carolina. But Louisville ain’t too shabby in their own rights. Teddy Bridgewater has continued to pace the conference as the AAC’s best quarterback, even ahead of Bortles. This should be a fun one Friday night and I’m going to say the Cardinals come out on top. Louisville 38, Central Florida 30.
Memphis v. SMU: Two teams with similar records but in vastly different phases of their coaches tenure with the program. On one side, June Jones is in his fifth year with SMU, has made the Mustangs basically the definition of an “average team”, and looks to be a few more bad performances from being axed. On the other side, Justin Fuente has taken an uninspired Memphis team and gotten them to play with some tenacity this season. Tiger wins, based on heart alone (/tear). Memphis 27, SMU 17
Temple v. Army: The Owls put a scare into our Bearcats last week, scoring a surprising 20 points in the first half. They looked better but are still dealing with a lack of talent across the team. Now, Army isn’t a whole heck of a lot better but certainly have more cohesion and knowledge of what they’d like to do on offense and defense. Unlike the Owls who are experimenting with a freshman quarterback for the second straight week. For that reason, I’m picking the Black Knights in this game. And because I feel like picking against the US Military is bad for my karma. Army 38, Temple 24
Houston v. BYU: Two weeks ago I probably would have penciled this in as a Cougars win. They have been white hot this year but have been rolling the dice with freshman John O’Korn after David Piland’s career was abruptly ended due to sustaining too many concussions. Houston’s schedule has been pretty light to date I have have to figure the bubble is going to pop soon for O’Korn. And I think that happens this week against a 4-2 BYU team with enough going for them to take the Cougars down for the first time this season. That’s how I see it playing out anyways. BYU 42, Houston 33