Tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 on ESPN2, the Cincinnati Bearcats travel to Knoxville to face off with the Tennessee Volunteers. Both teams had nice wins over FBS teams a week ago. Both teams have some weaknesses that the other team is going to look to exploit. Tennessee has beaten Cincinnati 4 of the 5 times the teams have played. All the games have been in Knoxville. The Vols are 15-4 against the current Big East. UT has also lost their last 5 games against BCS non-conference foes. This is the first time since 1996 that Cincinnati has played an SEC team in the regular season, and the first time since 1995 that they have played in an SEC stadium. None of the games with Tennessee have been competitive in the past. UC won the first meeting 35-0, but has lost the rest of the meetings by an average score of 32-7. But, it’s been 19 years since the schools last played, so let’s take a look at how these Bearcats and Vols match up.
Coach: Butch Jones (5-8)
QB: Zach Collaros 12-19, 134, 4 TDs.
Zach didn’t get a whole lot to do in the opener. He made a few good throws. He was highly efficient in the red zone, as you can tell by the 4 TDs. He got the ball around a lot more than in the past, as he hit 6 receivers. Zach faces his first challenge of the year. After being asked all offseason about what went wrong with the Bearcats, it’ll be interesting to see how he plays against Tennessee. Keeping with other QBs, I would be a bit surprised if Munchie Leagux saw action. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Jordan Luallen running the wildcat 3-4 times.
RB: Isaiah Pead 7-87-2 TDs, George Winn 6-33, Jameel Poteat 4-30, Ralph David Abernathy 4-26, Akise Teague 2-13-1 TD.
The running backs had a lot to do against Austin Peay. Pead was given almost an off day so the coaching staff could see who the back up should be. George Winn got a lot of the early carries, but Poteat and RDA IV took most of them later in the game. Nothing against Winn, but I think his carries are going to drop. I expect Poteat and RDA to get most of the backup carries, with some Teague mixed in. Mainly the ball will be in Isaiah Pead’s hands. Pead could do no wrong in week 1. He took his first carry 40 yards. He had 1 negative run, which means the rest of the time he was busting down the field. Scoring twice was nice to see after he had trouble getting it in last year. I mean TDs. He’s going to be a key tomorrow.
WR: DJ Woods 4-59-1TD, Anthony McClung 3-48-2 TDs, Kenbrell Thompkins 2-20-1TD.
We didn’t get to see a lot out of the receivers last week. DJ got the most targets, and was the one looked to on deep passes. That’s to be expected. McClung got two pretty wide open TDs, especially the second. Thompkins is playing somewhat of a revenge game. His first UC catch was for a TD. It would be nice to see his first catch at Tennessee go for a TD. Shaq Washington was looked for on a couple of screens in week 1. The backs were used in the passing game as well. The tight ends weren’t used, but maybe that will change with Travis Kelce returning.
OL: The Cincinnati offensive line was a bulldozer unit against Austin Peay. They paved the way for almost 400 yards rushing, and gave up only 3 negative runs, all for a yard. The group of Hoffman, Martinez, Davis, Bujnoch, and Hooey will face some stiffer competition this week. Pass protection is going to be a key. Establishing the run will be as well. Tennessee probably won’t look so easy to dominate.
DL: The defensive line got a lot of rotation against AP, so it was really hard for someone to stand out. Derek Wolfe had a sack, and a forced fumble. Brad Harrah, and Jordan Stepp had tackles for loss. Dan Giordano had no tackles. John Hughes and Walter Stewart had 2. UC gave up 3.6 yards a carry against AP, which probably won’t cut it this week.
LB: Ben Pooler was the star of the show against AP, with 5 tackles. He was everywhere, including when he recovered one of the 3 fumbles. JK Schaffer shined in pass defense, with 1 INT and 2 more dropped. Maalik Bomar assisted on 2 tackles. It was mainly the backup linebackers that got run. Casseus had 3 tackles, as did Dwight Jackson. Both had a tackle for loss.
DB: Adrian Witty took advantage of his time to shine in week 1. Along with his 5 tackles, he forced 2 fumbles. He was making the most of his time. Chris Williams had 2 TFL, including a sack. Drew Frey made a few tackles, as did Wes Richardson. Deven Drane had a tackle for loss. I think the only disappointment of week 1 was that the secondary was not challenged. It’s still a big question mark. I’m certain it’s going to be one Tennessee challenges.
Special Teams: Tony Miliano missed his first extra point try, but connected on his next 7 extra points, and a 39 yard FG. Pat O’Donnell only held in week 1. DJ Woods averaged 3 yards a punt return. RDA IV took his only kick return 60 yards. Miliano kicked off well, 2 touchbacks.
Coach: Derek Dooley: 7-7
QB: Sophomore Tyler Bray got off to a great start for the season. He was 17-24-293-3 TDs. He played well as a freshman, setting UT records for yards and TDs as a fresh. Bray has tied Peyton Manning’s record with 2 TDs+ in 7 straight games. He’s got 21 TDs against 10 INTs for his career. He’s obviously someone that UC has to contain. Matt Simms is his reserve.
RB: Tauren Poole 24-98-1 TD, Marlin Lane 10-35-1 TD.
Poole is a senior who had 1,200 yards and 11 TDs last year. He’s the only starting senior on the Tennessee offense, and only 1 of 13. Poole is a solid runner. Marlin Lane is a highly tauted freshman. He scored twice in the opener, one rushing, one receiving. He’s going to get his chance to make some plays. Channing Fugate is the fullback. He caught a trio of passes in week 1, but is mainly a blocker.
WR: Justin Hunter 6-148-1TD, Da’Rick Rogers 5-100-1 TD, Zach Rogers 1-14
The sophomore tandem of Hunter and D. Rogers is one that you don’t want to mess with. Just like Armon Binns and DJ Woods last season, Hunter and Rogers got nearly all of the looks by the QB. Like Binns and Woods, they both put up the stats to back up that confidence. Hunter had an 81 yard TD, and Rogers a 47 yard TD. They are going to pressure the UC secondary. Mychal Rivera is the starting tight end. He didn’t get a reception in week 1, and had only 11 catches last season.
OL: Dallas Thomas has the most experience years wise, being a redshirt junior. Starting wise, Thomas has started the past 2 seasons, as has sophomore Ja’Wuan James. Those are the tackles. James was an All-SEC freshman selection last year. LG Alex Bullard made his first start last week, and is a ND transfer. C James Stone has started 6 games, which is every Tyler Bray start. He was a sporting news and FWAA freshman All-American. RG Zach Fulton started 6 of the last 8 games, but played RG in nearly every game last year. The line are all sophomores excluding Thomas, but have all played at least 13 games, Bullard excepted.
DL: End Jacques Smith had 4 tackles, and 2 TFL in his first start. He is a soph, and another All-SEC freshman. He had 24 tackles in ’10. Tackle Malik Jackson had 3 stops. He’s one to watch. He was first team All-SEC as a junior. Daniel Hood is a converted offensive lineman. Ben Martin is from Cincinnati, and in his first game since 2009, he had 2 tackles.
LB: 2 of the Tennessee backers are freshman, both of them play the outside. Curt Maggitt had 3 tackles. AJ Johnson, 136 on Rivals top 150, had 3 as well. He split a tackle for loss with senior middle linebacker Austin Johnson. Johnson added 4 more tackles. One thing the trio had in common, was that they all made their first start last week. Daryl Vareen led the team in tackles last week with 6. The group is short on experience, but long on talent.
DB: Justin Coleman is another 4 star recruit who started last week. Coleman was beat deep in week 1. Marsalis Teague is the other corner. In his first start at right corner, he had 3 tackles and recovered a fumble. He’s a converted receiver. Brent Brewer is another sophomore who played every game last year. He had 3 tackles against Montana. He played minor league baseball for 4 years. Prentiss Waggner is the other safety, who was second team All-SEC. He’s the star of the secondary.
Special Teams: Michael Palardy hit all 6 of his extra points, and is a 71% FG kicker. Matt Darr had punts of 37 and 31 last week. Marlin Lane returned punts. He took 4 for 23 yards. Da’Rick Rogers returned 1 kick for 29 yards, and Tauren Poole 1 for 27.
Keys to the game
The biggest key to the game to me is the same one that everyone else is talking about, the Cincinnati secondary against the Tennessee receivers. The Bearcats are starting pretty much the same unit as last season, except Drane is starting for Reuben Johnson. UC threw out a lot of nickle against AP, and I suspect they will against UT. While I’m very worried about the corners, except Cam Cheatham, I’m more worried about the safeties. Drew Frey and Wes Richardson had some major breakdowns last year. Tennessee is going to throw on them. I wonder if we will see more of Johnson than we did last week. Williams mainly offered run support. Drane has never been tested at this level. The linebackers also have some issues. JK looked good in coverage. I’m not sure about Pooler or Bomar.
One of the ways to take the pressure off the secondary is to get pressure. The Bearcats had a pair of sacks last week, Wolfe getting one, and Williams the other on a blitz. If they can get Bray off rhythm, things could be good. The UT line is big, but the experienced UC line needs to take them to school.
The Cincinnati passing attack is something to watch. As mentioned, the Tennessee defense is young. The UC offense is experienced. Collaros could very well pick apart the UT defense. Coleman is very talented, but can be beaten. UC had no trouble getting yards out of the passing game last year. The trouble they had was finishing. That leads to this.
Get Pead going. Last year when UC lost, Isaiah Pead didn’t touch the ball very much. When they won, he touched the ball a lot. The line doesn’t need to spring gigantic holes for him to get going, but they need to give him just enough. If he can break through, he can do big things. He’s a special back for a reason. Pead needs to get at least 20 touches Saturday.
Turnovers. In a game that looks to be high scoring on paper, turnovers are always the deciding factor. As anyone who watched UC last season, we know that’s the truth. UC got 5 turnovers in week 1. A lot of that was due to aggression. One doesn’t want to see that aggression used against them on play action and the like. A fumble or two could be a big boost.
Special Teams. The UC kick return defense was very bad to start out last week. UT has guys who can go house, so the return game needs to be sharp. Tony Miliano was good last week, but I don’t know how much he can be trusted, in a fan sense, with a big kick. Sure, I’ll think he can make it, but a part of me will be scared shitless if the game comes down to him from 45. RDA IV busted a long return last week that set the tempo. More of that please.
I’m really split on this one. I want to just be a homer and pick the UC victory. I think a loss is possible. Well, losses are always possible, but you know what I mean. Ah hell, jinxes aren’t real.
Cincinnati 31 Tennessee 27