Tomorrow at noon on the Big East network and ESPN3, the Cincinnati Bearcats take the trip to Tampa to play the South Florida Bulls. USF has taken it hard in Big East play, starting out 0-2. The Bearcats won their opener against Louisville. The Bulls have not lost at home this season. The Bearcats are 1-1 on the road. Of course, their biggest road test was a disastrous loss to Tennessee. The Bulls have had a disastrous loss of their own, getting popped by Pittsburgh. USF has the best win between the teams with their win at Notre Dame. I suppose you say Cincinnati’s best win was NC State, which isn’t really saying much. This 4 game stretch that UC has entered is the grinder for the season. They play USF, Pitt, West Virginia and Rutgers the next month. If they come out of that sunny side up, we could be looking at a Big East title. But before we go that far, we have to start at the beginning. That is with USF tomorrow. Let’s take a look at how the teams stack up.
Record: 5-1, 1-0
Coach: Butch Jones 9-9
QB: Zach Collaros is tapped for the start in a surprising move. Collaros has never lost a game he’s finished against South Florida. Of course, UC has never won a game he’s started against USF either. Let’s hope that both of those change. Colloars is 102-159, 64%, 1,187 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs. Now that the INTs have picked up the past couple of weeks, his numbers are starting to look a little disappointing. He hasn’t been the guy who throws the ball all over the field this year. He’s made up for that with his legs, as he’s gained 204 yards and scored 4 times. Both of those are second on the team. Munchie Leagux is the back up. Jordan Luallen ran the Jordan Luallen wildcat for the first time in forever last week against Louisville, so maybe that’s back in the gameplan.
RB: Isaiah Pead has been the heart and soul of the Bearcats offense this season. His 634 yards rank him third in the Big East in yards, but his 104 per game average has him second. He has put the ball in the end zone 8 times as a rusher, and once as a receiver. Isaiah Pead is the man. No other way to put it. He’s been the man so much lately, that he and Zach are the only people that run the ball anymore. Jameel Poteat is third on the team in rushing with 108 yards, then George Winn with 71.
WR: Anthony McClung has taken over all the receiving leader stats. He leads the team with 25 catches, 324 yards and 3 TDs, even though he hasn’t scored since week 2. Kenbrell Thompkins has 24 catches, 274 yards and 2 TDs. DJ Woods moved to second in yards with 284 to go along with 23 grabs and 2 scores. Alex Chisum showed a little something last week. Skinny Binns has 8-103 on the season. The receiving numbers for the tight ends Travis Kelce and Adrien Robinson are modest, 5-59-1, 4-102-2, but all they do is make big plays. It’s something the rest of the unit needs to pick up.
OL: Alex Hoffman starts things off at left tackle, Randy Martinez at left guard, Evan Davis at center, Austen Bjunoch at right guard, and we have a question mark at right tackle. Sean Hooey didn’t get the start last week, and now he’s in an OR situation with Eric Lefeld. The line showed some cracks in the structure against Louisville. Collaros was put down 3 times. The run game had some trouble getting off the ground. But overall UC is averaging 5.3 yards a rush, and 11.7 yards a pass. Collaros has been put down 8 times now. USF has some players on D. It could be a test of wills up front.
DL: Walter Stewart, Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, and Dan Giordano are the line up front. Derek Wolfe leads the line in tackles with 30. He’s made a team best 10 TFL, with 5 of them being sacks. The 5 sacks also lead the team. He leads the team in hurries, and is tied for the lead in forcing fumbles. Dude can play. John Hughes has 19 tackles, 3.5 TFL and 1 sack. Walter Stewart has 4 TFL, got his first sack against Louisville, has 3 break ups and 2 hurries. Jordan Stepp has been the top back up, with 14 tackles, 1.5 TFL. Giordano has 5 TFL and 4 sacks. Monte Taylor and Brandon Mills are the rush specialists. Taylor has 2.5 sacks, Mills 3.
LB: JK Shaffer, Maalik Bomar, and Ben Pooler or Nick Temple will start. Temple has been getting a lot of work in a reserve role, I think it’s only a matter of time before he starts officially. Mr Schaffer leads the team in tackles with 46. He is second in TFL with 6, with 2 of them being sacks. He’s picked off a team high 3 passes. Maalik Bomar has started playing better, he’s up to 23 tackles. Pooler has 11 tackles, 1 TFL, and Temple 10.
DB: Dominique Battle or Deven Drane and Cam Cheatham start at corner, with Wes Richardson and Drew Frey at safety. Chris Williams is the nickle. Cam Cheatham is now second on the team in tackles with 31. He’s broken up 3 passes and picked one off. He’s been very solid. Wes Richardson has 29 tackles, 1 break up and 1 forced fumble, while Frey has 28 tackles, 3 break ups and 1 INT. Williams has made 24 stops, 2 TFL, with 1 sack. Dom Battle has come on strong lately. He’s up to 3.5 TFL, and got his second pick of the year against Louisville. Drane has 2 INTs and a team best 5 break ups.
Special Teams: Tony Miliano is 7-9 on FGs, his only misses have been blocked, and 26-28 on extra points. Pat O’Donnell is averaging 44.1 yards a punt, which is very good. DJ Woods had a miserable week returning punts, seeing his average fall to 6.5 a return, and Danny Milligan replace him. Woods had some trouble holding on to the ball as well. Ralph David Abernathy IV is averaging a cool 25.3 a kick return.
Record: 4-2, 0-2
Coach: Skip Holtz 12-7
QB: BJ Daniels is still the man in Tampa. He’s having his best start to date, 115-187, 61.5%, 1,458 yards, 8 TDs and 3 INTs. Daniels has been closer to 50% than 60% the past couple of games. But still, he’s second in the league in passing, and we all know he has a cannon. His play will go a long way to determining how things shake out. He was great last year, and USF won. Daniels has been taking to the ground a lot more lately. He’s second on the team in rushing with 322 yards and 4 TDs. He’s putting it together well this season. If he’s on, USF is dangerous.
RB: Speaking of dangerous, Darrell Scott has burst on the scene in his first year as a Bull. He has 482 yards and 5 TDs. Oh, and he’s averaging 6.2 a carry. He’s lost 4 yards this season in 78 attempts. That’s cray cray. Demetris Murray sees a lot of action as well, 62 carries. He has 295 yards and 3 scores on 4.8 a carry. The backs are bruisers who go straightforward. They didn’t have a great game running against the tough UConn defensive front though.
WR: If you take away all the West Virginia receivers and Mohamed Sanu, Sterling Griffin has been the best receiver in the Big East. He’s made 32 catches for 420 yards and a score. He gets down the field. He’s also the top target by far for Daniels. UC has had trouble with top receivers this season, and I don’t think they covered any of them. Victor Mark has 15 catches for 177 and a score. Former QB now TE Evan Landi has 12 for 87 and a score. Lindsey Lamar leads the group in TD catches with 2, but has just 9 for 124 this season. When he’s not throwing to Grifffin, Daniels moves the ball around a lot.
OL: From left to right we have Mark Popek, Jeremiah Warren, Chaz Hine, Danous Estenor and Quinterrius Eatmon. They are all big and all near 300 lbs. Wolfe and Hughes are around 300 on the UC line, so it should be a battle of brutes. The line has given up just 7 sacks. They average 5.2 a rush and 7.5 a pass. USF is a heavily penalized team, that’s something that could come into play with UC’s rush.
DL: Ryne Giddins, Cory Grissom, Keith McCaskill and Patrick Hampton are the starters up front. Elkino Watson isn’t listed as a starter, but plays a lot. He’s got 26 tackles, a team high 6.5 TFL and 1 sack. Giddins has 24 tackles, 6 TFL. He’s tied for the team lead with 3 sacks and has a team best 3 hurries. Grissom has 19 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 hurries. Keith McCaskill is third on the team in TFL with 5.5 and has 2 sacks. Julius Forte is a rusher, 4 TFL, 3 sacks. Hampton has 10 tackles, and 2 hurries. Claude Davis is another rush end, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles.
LB: The very good linebacking unit has Sam Barrington, Michale Lanaris and DeDe Lattimore. Lanaris leads the team with 47 tackles. He’s got 1 sack and 1 INT. Lattimore is second with 40 tackles. He’s made 5.5 TFL with 2 sacks and an INT. Barrington is 3rd with 35 tackles. He’s made 2.5 for loss, 1.5 are sacks. He’s also got an INT. I told you the unit was very good. Probably the best linebacking group in the Big East. Mike Jeune has 15 tackles, 3 TFL and a sack in 5 games.
DB: Kaybon Webster is one of the best corners in the Big East. He’s joined by Quenton Washington, with Jon Lejiste and Jerrell Young as the safeties. Webster is 4th on the team with 28 tackles, 1 TFL. He’s picked off 1 pass and broken up 2. Lijiste has 27 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack. He’s picked off a pass as well. Young has 23 tackles, 2 for loss and an INT. Everyone but Washington has picked off a pass. Washington leads the team in break ups though.
Special Teams: Maikon Bonani has hit 9-14 FGs and all 26 of his extra points. He missed 2 big ones last week. Justin Brockhaus-Kann punts for 38.9 on average. Lindsey Lamar is very dangerous as kick returner, but only averages 18 a kick. Evan Landi took over for Terrell Mitchell and has taken 5 punts 13 yards. He’s not a great punt returner.
Keys to the Game
Control the clock. The Bulls are dead last in time of possession in the Big East. You can move the ball on them. You can convert on 3rd down against them. The Bulls defense stiffens in the red zone, but you can drive. UC hasn’t been that great at keeping the ball this year, 28 minutes a game, but the game plan could be changed to go after this against USF. USF has the ability to have a potent offense. Don’t let them get in a rhythm at all.
Get pressure on Daniels. I don’t like thinking about the prospect of a QB with Daniels’ skill having time to pick apart the secondary. We saw that happen last season. I think USF is going to try and load up a couple of big play attempts. Big passes can be ruined with pressure. That’s how you get rushed throws, deflections, sacks, and you know. Not a lot of people have gotten to Daniels this year, it’s not going to be easy. In that vain…
Don’t get beat deep. I think everyone but Austin Peay has broken a big pass against the Bearcats. Louisville did, Miami did a couple times, as did NC State and Tennessee. Fortunately, UC was able to dodge bullets against Miami, force a Louisville FG and be a lot of points ahead of NC State. Tennessee exploited the secondary. USF is the best team UC has played since them. Now that everyone on Tennessee has gotten hurt and they are something like 96 point underdogs to Alabama, that loss doesn’t look that great anymore. Anyway, the Bulls can put the ball up. They have a receiver who will go get it. Gotta keep coverage.
Score early. This one is hard for many reasons. USF doesn’t give up a ton of points, Cincinnati hasn’t started quickly in a while. It can be done though. And I think it has to be. Getting off to a fast start in this game is important. Maybe some doubt creeps in the heads of the USF players. Maybe they think “Uh oh, here we go again.” What would go a big way in doing that is…
Get Isaiah Pead his touches. Pead had 12 carries in the first 3 quarters against Louisville. That was not good enough and UC was losing. Pead got many touches in the 4th quarter, and UC won. Ray Graham got many touches against USF and did very well. Pead is just as good or better than Graham. It’s showtime.
Keep Collaros vertical. USF loves to sack the quarterback. Their 22 sacks are second in the Big East. They don’t really blitz often, most of the sacks come from the line. The line was shaky last week for UC. I believe in the guys, but at the same time, I’m worried.
That bit about believing in the guys and being worried applies for the whole team. There are some questions about the Bearcats that can only be answered by facing a team that has a good QB. USF has a good QB. This game will tell us a lot about the Bearcats. The Bulls backs are against the wall in terms of winning the Big East. They can’t afford to go 0-3. A win here for UC would be a big road win and some momentum for the Pittsburgh game next week. It would also get UC bowl eligible. I have been wondering about this game all week. I don’t really know what is going to happen. I think that the Bearcats could win. I think that the Bulls could win. I’m going to close my eyes and pick
South Florida 24 Cincinnati 17