5 Keys to Cincinnati v. Rutgers; Big East Week 12 Predictions

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Ever since I first saw UC’s Big East schedule I’ve always believed that it was a blessing the Bearcats will be getting Rutgers at home for this matchup. Since joining the Big East Cincinnati has never lost to Rutgers in Nippert Stadium. Such victories include a 30 – 11 upset of a then undefeated Scarlet Knights team that had hopes of going to its first BCS bowl in the history of the program. More recently the Bearcats let loose their frustrations of a disappointing 2010 season on Rutgers rolling up 69 points on the Jersey boys in the highest scoring game in Big East history.

This time around both teams are starkly different in that they are equally having very strong seasons. Cincinnati is sitting at 7 – 2 including 3 – 1 within the Big East and Rutgers is 8 – 1 with a sparkling undefeated conference record. But despite the obvious success they are experiencing in 2012 a sense of urgency has to be starting to set in. Both teams desperately need the win this Saturday to try stay near the top of the Big East with the Louisville Cardinals. If the Bearcats lose their conference title and BCS bowl hopes are all but dashed. If the Scarlet Knights lose it further opens the door for Cincinnati to battle for the conference crown and makes Rutgers’ meeting with the Cardinals at the end the season all the more critical.

At the end of this game the Big East title race will either become clearer or infinitely more foggy. UC fans better hope it’s the latter because that means the championship could still come down to three teams as opposed to just Rutgers and Louisville. The five keys to getting that done:

1) Embrace The Blitz

Rutgers is going to blitz. That’s just what they do and it’s one of the main reasons why they are 8 – 1 right now. It’s best if the Bearcats just accept that fact and turn the Scarlet Knights’ aggression against them. Sure Rutgers will pressure with 5 or 6 defenders but I expect the coaches and Brendon Kay to recognize that and use slip screens to Ralph David Abernathy and tunnel screens to Anthony McClung or Danny Milligan to counter the blitz. In this way it will give Cincinnati the advantage of numbers at the second level and hopefully big plays. At the very least it will make Rutgers think twice about blitzing which will allow UC to get its dangerous running game going.

2) Air It Out

Rutgers is giving up a little under 200 yards per game through the air, which is third best in the conference and on the surface indicates they are playing pretty good defense in this respect. But against teams with real quarterbacks, Syracuse (Ryan Nassib) and Arkansas (Tyler Wilson), the Scarlet Knights have surrendered 356 and 419 passing yards respectively. With Brendon Kay firmly entrenched as the signal caller Cincinnati too has a real quarterback leading this team. Plus he has oodles of weapons at his disposal lined out wide or catching the ball out of the backfield. The Bearcats shouldn’t be afraid to air it out on Saturday.

3) Stay Patient With The Run

Ok based on the previous two keys it seems like it might be in Cincinnati’s best interest to desert the running game against Rutgers. No, absolutely not. The Bearcats are the best team in the Big East running the football and are 7 – 2 because of the rushing attack. The Scarlet Knights blitz to stop the run, and are very successful doing so, but they haven’t faced as strong a runner as George Winn and talented an offensive line as Cincinnati’s thus far this season. The Bearcats should feel confident running the ball against anyone and even if it bogs down on 1st and 2nd down they can take comfort knowing that Brendon Kay is more than capable of bailing them out on 3rd and long. Where this will really matter is later in the 2nd half when the Scarlet Knights defense gets worn down and starts to avoid contact and miss tackles, allowing Winn and Abernathy to reel off big gains.

4) Pressure With The Defensive Line

The last defensive linemen to record a sack was Mitch Meador against Toledo almost 18 quarters ago. Clearly the defensive front is missing the push Derek Wolfe and John Hughes up front and now Walter Stewart off the edge. Statistically there is only one offensive line better than Cincinnati’s in the conference and it’s Rutgers’, allow just 7 sacks to UC’s 8. Personally I think the Bearcats have the better OL but maybe I’m just biased. Whatever. Anyways UC needs to start getting pressure with the 3 or 4 guys on the line so the rest of the defense can help in run support or pass coverage. If Cincinnati continuously has to sellout sending 5 or 6 blitzers Rutgers will surely pick up on that and start exploiting one-on-one matchups with their talented wide receivers. As strong as UC’s defensive backs are, even they shouldn’t be asked to stay in coverage for long periods of time and especially later in the game.

5) Win The War Of Attrition

If there’s been one theme over the past 800 words or so it’s that Cincinnati and Rutgers almost mirror each other; both have similar records, strong offensive lines, and powerful running games. The main difference will come from the respective coaching staffs and the chess match that is surely to occur between them. Expect Jones and Flood to continuously pick and prod the their opposition through the first half in an attempt to breakout game changing plays after halftime. It’s not that I don’t think they won’t throw deep or run screens in the 1st and 2nd quarter but I think both teams will be more likely to connect on them in the 2nd half. Both teams understand the importance of this game and will probably be mentally and physically drained by the 4th quarter. For Cincinnati to come out victorious they need to stay even-keel throughout the game and not panic as the clock ticks away. Trust the gameplan and stick to the basics no matter the situation, that’s how the Bearcats win.

Big East Games – 2012 Record: 34 – 13 (72.3%)

Army vs. Temple: After taking their lumps in four straight Big East losses the Owls get an opportunity to pick themselves up against the Black Knights. Temple is a solid team but have ran into injury and quarterback issues over the past few weeks. But a win this week will be a nice boost for a young team. Temple 23, Army 17

Miami (FL) vs. South Florida: The Bulls are extremely desperate to make a bowl game this year as one more loss has them sitting on their couch in December. Given the massive contract Skip Holtz signed in the last offseason his job is probably safe. The same can’t be said of Al Golden of Miami who, after rebuilding the Temple Owls, took the Hurricanes gig and didn’t see nearly the kind of success most people had thought. The fans are starting to show their displeasure with this team which the athletic department has to take notice of. Golden needs a win on Saturday to make sure he’s still on the payroll next year and I think he gets it. Miami (FL) 34, South Florida 13

Missouri vs. Syracuse: This could be a shootout. Of course the Missouri Tigers boast a high powered offense but have ran into trouble facing the ultra-talented defenses in the SEC. The Orange too have a quick-scoring attack behind the arm of Ryan Nassib. But like the ‘Canes and Bulls, these teams desperately need this win to go bowling, which would add a nice ending to another otherwise disappointing season. Coin flip, but I think it’s Tigers this time around. Missouri 35, Syracuse 30