The Bearcats travel to Texas on Saturday to face the Houston Cougars for the first time since both were hooking up on a regular basis in Conference-USA. Those days weren’t exactly the best for either program. The Cougars, who boasted pretty solid seasons in the now-defunct Southwest Conference, muddled their way in Conference-USA. The same went for the Cincinnati Bearcats who saw far more success on the basketball court than on the football field.
But after the schools parted ways in 2005, both football teams saw much more consistent success. Houston rose to become a Conference-USA power and the same for Cincinnati in the Big East. But now with formation of the American Athletic Conference, we’ll be seeing these teams face off on a regular basis. The first begins this Saturday. Let’s get to the keys to the game.
1) Protect The Football
Houston is the best team in the country in turnover margin. Despite playing a freshman quarterback, the Cougars just don’t give the ball away and simultaneously force mistakes. They’ve caused 18 interceptions and forced 15 fumbles in 2013. For the Bearcats this means safe play with the football. Cincinnati has been below average in this area this season, ranking 88th in fumbles lost as well as interceptions thrown. Forcing turnovers is Houston’s strength and UC would be wise not to feed into it.
2) Feed McKay, Mmmkay?
The 6’6″ Goliath of a receiver has given Cincinnati a deep threat in the passing game not seen since Armon Binns. Brendon Kay hooked up with him three times for touchdowns against Rutgers. The pair has really developed some nice chemistry this season. But even if the big gains and long touchdowns don’t come, what using McKay does is force the defense to keep safeties over the top to protect against the deep ball. As a result, it leaves the middle of the field vulnerable for slot receivers like Shaq Washington and Anthony McClung to exploit. That’s why they racked up huge numbers last week along with McKay.
3) Stellar Offensive Line Play
If there was ever a time for Cincinnati’s hogmollies to have an exceptional game, now would be it. The Houston Cougars have a solid front seven but the strength lies in the linebacking corps. Efrem Oliphant and Derrick Mathews are bruisers who know how to get upfield quickly to stuff an opponent’s running game or sack the quarterback. On the season the pair has combined for 22.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. The Bearcats’ offensive line will have their work cut out for them on Saturday.
4) Play Great In Space
Cincinnati can’t just key in on any one receiver, although Deontay Greenberry should garner a bit more of their attention than others. Really the Bearcats should come into this game with the same strategy they had against SMU; make the initial tackle and prevent the ball carrier from getting yards after the catch. While the Mustangs racked up of 451 yards of total offense, they scored just 25 points, which is a full touchdown below their season average. Against Houston on Saturday, UC needs to accomplish the same thing to prevent a shootout because the Cougar defense is far more adept at stopping Cincinnati than the Mustangs were.
5) Get In John O’Korn’s Face
The freshman has had an exceptional season but has struggled in recent weeks against the better defenses of UCF and Louisville. Cincinnati has as good a defense as those two, if not better. The pressure the front seven creates has been critical in each of the Bearcats’ wins this season and will be even moreso on Saturday. Like I mentioned, O’Korn has done a nice job in 2013 but he’s still a freshman and is prone to making freshman mistakes. UC needs to be the one to cause those mistakes and get the Houston offense off the field.
AAC Games – 2013 Record: 41-7 (85.4%) – Unfortunately UCF won which means another perfect week and Cincinnati’s hopes for a BCS bowl are basically nil.
UCF v. Rutgers: If not for Cincinnati-Houston and the Scarlet Knights’ horrible performance last Saturday, this might be the most intriguing AAC game on tap this week. But, it’s not, and the Knights might drop 50 on a depleted Rutgers secondary. UCF 48, Rutgers 27
Louisville v. Memphis: The Cardinals showed us some of their vulnerabilities last week in a close 20-13 win over Houston. But, they face the Tigers this week and while Memphis is a much-improved team compared to the last couple of seasons, they still don’t have the horses to run with UL. Louisville 35, Memphis 14
South Florida v. SMU: This game could be a blowout. SMU is coming off of a big win over UConn last week where just about everything went right for them offensively. Now they face an equally bad South Florida team that just can’t get out of its own way. Mustangs win and they win big. SMU 52, USF 24
Temple v. UConn: A matchup between two teams who have combined for just one win this year suggests an incredibly boring, low scoring game. This might not be the case. Unlike the Huskies, who look every bit the 0-9 team they are, the Owls are far better than their 1-9 record implies. There’s something brewing there in Philly and this game against Connecticut could really be the spark that jump starts the Temple program. Owls win. Temple 38, UConn 17