Cincinnati Football Hits Rock Bottom In Ugly Loss At UConn

Oct 8, 2016; East Hartford, CT, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Nate Cole (84) makes the catch against Connecticut Huskies cornerback John Robinson IV (31) in the first quarter at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2016; East Hartford, CT, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Nate Cole (84) makes the catch against Connecticut Huskies cornerback John Robinson IV (31) in the first quarter at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

UC was completely outplayed by hapless UConn, and Tommy Tuberville may have already lost this team.

After disappointing back-to-back losses to start conference play (with a win over Miami sandwiched in-between), the Bearcats officially hit rock bottom on Saturday afternoon in Hartford.  Houston and USF are good football teams.  UConn is far from it.  The Bearcats came out flat, blew numerous opportunities run away early, and paid dearly in the second half.

With Hayden Moore returning to the lineup at quarterback, UC moved the ball fairly well through the air.  But Moore badly overthrew Devin Gray over the middle late in in the first half, which led directly to a UConn touchdown one play later.  UC went from having a chance to take a commanding lead into halftime to being in a 9-7 dogfight.  Hayden also made a very questionable throw into double coverage on a 3rd-and-Goal in the second quarter which he got away with (the pass was incomplete, and UC kicked a field goal).

There were big time woes in the red zone.  UC drove inside UConn’s 20 three times in the second quarter, including two goal-to-go situations.  The Bearcats only managed to come away with three field goals.  I’ve already mentioned that one of those could’ve turned into a UConn INT – luckily it did not.  A screen pass was thrown backward for a fumble, bringing up 3rd-and-long and causing a drive to stall.  The red zone execution was horrendous.  You have to score TDs in the red zone, especially in goal-to-go scenarios.  Have to.

Part of the problem in the red zone was UC’s run game.  It was as bad as it was against Houston, maybe even worse.  The Bearcats’ RB tandem of Mike Boone and Tion Green rushed 12 times for just 22 yards on the day.  Add a few Khalil Lewis end arounds and subtract sacks, and UC rushed for just 9 yards total.  Not good.  In his halftime TV interview, Tommy Tuberville said, “We shut down [UConn’s] passing game.  Any time you can make them one dimensional, you have a chance.”  Touche, Tommy.  Touche.

Overall, Cincinnati’s execution was generally sluggish from the opening kickoff.  Several Bearcats shovel passes ended up incomplete, with UConn’s defensive line getting so much push that UC’s lineman were bumping into Mike Boone as he tried to catch the ball.  I’ve already mentioned that a screen pass was thrown backwards and out of bounds, resulting an eight yard loss on the fumble.  That play took UC out of the red zone and set up an impossible 3rd-and-20.  UC wasn’t at all good on third down, either, converting on just 5-of-15 opportunities.

And Malik Clements made a terrible play on special teams, failing to down a punt that should’ve been downed at the six-inch line in the fourth quarter.  UC had the ball stopped at the one, which would’ve been huge in a one score game, but Clements mishandled the ball and deflected it into the end zone for a touchback.  UConn took possession at the 20 and drove 74 yards to kick the field goal that iced the game.

There were a few good things, but not nearly enough.

Embattled backup turned starting kicker Josh Pasley had a good day kicking the ball.  His kicks are never pretty, but he went 3-for-3.  I noted in the opener that there was big trouble with the holding, and that was part of the probem with Pasley’s kicks.  Punter Sam Geraci has handled the holding duties for the last few years for Andrew Gantz.  But UC is now having S Carter Jacobs handle holding duties for Pasley.  The reason: Pasley is left-footed and Jacobs is left handed.

I’m sure it was difficult for Geraci to acclimate to doing things backwards with his weak hand.  It’s probably a lot like batting right-handed your whole life and then trying to bat lefty.  No shame in Geraci not being able to master that in only a few weeks.  Hopefully more consistent holds from the lefty Jacobs can help Pasley become more accurate.

Even so, look for UC to go for a lot more 4th downs with Gantz being out for the season.  I’d expect to see UC line up to go for almost everything outside the red zone, as they did the first time they had the ball on Saturday.  Speaking of which, UC had that 4th-down converted if not for a drop by Nate Cole – chalk that up as another terrible mistake.

The defense shut down UConn’s passing game for the most part until late in the game.  Alex Thomas and Linden Stephens both picked off UConn’s Bryant Shirreffs.  Stephens’s pick stopped a nice UConn drive.  Cincinnati allowed UConn to have just 3 plays of over 20 yards all day.  The only problem was that two of those were long TD passes.  I wasn’t disappointed at all by the defense’s results.  Sure, they blew one coverage, but the other long pass was basically a jump ball.  Both of those things will happen.  The turnovers were crucial to keep the Bearcats in control of the game early.  And the defense did a pretty good job getting off the field on third down, especially on third-and-short.  The problem was that the UConn ran all over UC for 188 yards on the ground.  UConn dominated the time of possession by over 10 minutes, and eventually just wore UC’s defense down in the second half.

The bottom line is that I think Tommy Tuberville has again lost this team.  It happened last year, and it’s happening again.  After UC was quickly eliminated from AAC contention early, they stuck together enough to reach six wins and a bowl game, and then folded.  Last year, the result was the loss at USF that we’d all like to forget in which UC trailed 51-3 at halftime.  That and the bowl game made it very obvious that the team was done competing.  I don’t think Tommy has what it takes to keep a team together.  A week after Tubs and Gunner were seen jawing on the sideline, Sam Geraci was visibly upset at teammates who failed to down a punt.

The Bearcats folded in the second half.  They were shut out in the final 30:00 while UConn scored 20 unanswered points, and Tommy and Co. could do nothing to stop it or to get UC’s offense going again.  At this point, I’m sad to say that I’m getting deja vu from 2010.  At the halfway point, I can easily this team missing a bowl game.  This will maybe be the only time I ever say this, but I couldn’t be more thankful for a week with no Bearcats football next week.  I’m tired of getting our asses kicked.  Something has to change.