The Bearcats most disappointing loss of the season happened a couple of days ago 10-3 to Rutgers. It's a loss that all but eliminates Cincinnati from the Big East title picture. Even if Rutgers and Louisville ended up with 2 losses, Cincinnati lost to them both. There is no way for both schools to get to 3 losses. Rutgers only plays 2 more games. The harsh reality of a dream lost will hang around the program the next 2 weeks. Especially on this short week. It's also senior day on Friday night. That will probably sting a little bit with 20,000 people at Nippert.
The part that will sting the most about Saturday afternoon was the game was there for the taking. The game was tied a majority of the first half. UC was down 1 score until around 8 minutes left. Unfortunately the theme of the season is what could have been. What could have been if a flag was thrown on the Toledo kick return. What could have been if Travis Kelce caught the pass against Louisville. What could have been if UC got 1 break Saturday afternoon. This team played beyond expectations all season, but at the same time played right into them with their presumed 3rd place finish in the Big East. It is a very bitter pill to swallow.
Let's start with the coaching. A lot of people have been very critical of the playcalling, the time management and the coaching in general following this game. There are a couple of very real points to be made, but there is a lot of bullshit. People who Butch Jones needs to go or that he's a bad coach are idiots and we all need to ignore them. If you are reading any of the message boards for anything besides laughs and agreeing with what is being said, you also need to remember UC has won 17 games the last 2 years. Get that negativity nonsense out of here. Those people might get their wish if Jones leaves this offseason. We'll see how much they like it then.
As for the play calling, I had an issue with this. I've had some issues with it all season. As have a lot of you. I simply don't understand how George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy can get nearly as many run plays as Brendon Kay. I'm not counting the scrambles or the sacks. Throw those 6 plays away and you have Winn/RDA at 13 and Kay at 7. Luallen had 2 runs. That's 9 QB runs to 13 RB runs. It didn't help that UC couldn't run the ball for shit, but this team is one built for the ground. You have to stick with it. We saw this against Toledo. They go pass happy with QBs that aren't accurate, get behind on the sticks and then have to throw. The 4th and inches play was utterly ridiculous. We saw UC go shotgun draw last year against Tennessee twice and it not work. I was hoping shotgun runs on 4th and short were done for good. I was wrong. I'm trying not to sound like a know it all douche and it doesn't seem to be working. So I'll end this paragraph.
The defense was not perfect on Saturday, they gave up 420 yards, but they made key plays. Camerron Cheatham got a gift interception in the red zone. Dominique Battle picked off a pass in the red zone late in the first half. Jordan Stepp blocked a kick. They made enough plays to keep the Bearcats in the game.
The problem with the defense is that they were worn down because of the offense. Rutgers had the ball for 37:13. UC couldn't get off the field on 3rd down. Rutgers converted 6 of 13. The last 3rd down and the 4th down that were not converted were because of running the clock. UC gave up over 6 yards a play. They gave up 5 yards a rush. There were flaws along with the good parts.
The biggest play of the game happened against the defense. A coverage breakdown when Arryn Chenault bit on a play action leaving Deven Drane with no over the top help saw this happen.
That is a wide open catch. Mark Harrison had 106 yards receiving. That 71 yard TD helped a lot. I mentioned his numbers at Nippert the other day, 14 catches, 346 yards, 5 touchdowns, and the fact that Rutgers likes to go deep. The Bearcats lived down to their billing as one of the worst pass defenses in the league thanks to one play. Other than that play, the pass defense was good. Sigh.
Greg Blair made 12 tackles. He had 1 for a loss. He had a hurry as well. He played his typically good football. He passed the 100 tackle barrier on the season. I don't know if the Big East names 3 linebackers to the first team, but I think we saw two of them with Blair and Khaseem Greene.
Nick Temple had maybe his best game as a Bearcat. He made 8 tackles and broke up a pass. Temple seemed to be everywhere the first half. We saw a lot of mixing and matching of the linebackers. That makes it more impressive that Temple stood out so much. He should have a starting role next year. A real starting role, not the role he has this year where he's barely on the field. I really like him. Good game, Nick.
Someone on twitter mentioned that Cam Cheatham seemed to get beat a lot. Rutgers was picking on him the whole game. He's short, it happens. A lot. I don't think any of his 7 tackles were on plays under 8 yards. He's a corner, but that's not a great stat.
Tony Miliano missing the 34 yard field goal hurt. As you know, I love me some Golden Toe, but not as much as the Cincinnati coeds do, but that miss really hurt. He's had a good year, but all people want to do with kickers is remember the misses.
Pat O'Donnell had a rough day net punting wise. He boomed a 54 yarder with no return. That was followed by a 19 yard net, a 23 yard net and a 21 yard net. We are so use to seeing him flip the field with such precision that it was a little surprising to see him have a bad day. It happens to everyone.
UC has blocked 2 field goals in the last 3 games. I don't remember the last time that UC blocked a field goal before the Syracuse game. The special teams this season has been an overall plus. Kudos to them. Especially the field goal block team.
Can't tell you how much I've appreciated Travis Kelce this season. I wasn't a major believer in his before the season. He has won me over. He had a career high 5 catches. Kelce had 50 yards, which puts him 10 away from passing Brent Celek for 2nd most receiving yards by a tight end in UC history. That's a record he's going to break. 2 years ago Kelce was suspended for the season. Now he's the team's leading receiver and is having one of the best seasons a UC tight end has ever had.
Ralph David Abernathy IV showed off his explosiveness as a receiver with a team high 52 yards. When he gets the ball in space, you feel like he can make anything happen. I wish he was involved a little more in the offense. He had just 5 touches.
George Winn had a season low in yards per carry last week. Unfortunately that trend continued with 3.2 yards a carry this week. He had 35 rushing yards on 11 carries. He did make a big 30 yard reception. Winn had 10 carries for 20 yards when you take away his 15 yard run. Not a good game.
The offensive line, what a bad performance. UC averaged 3.2 yards a run. They gave up 3 sacks on the 2 biggest drives of the game. They couldn't handle the Rutgers front. Plain and simple.
After 2 games of nothing, Damon Julian came back from the abyss with 2 catches for 34 yards. He had a horrible false start to put UC in a 2nd and 24 spot, but hey, he is still alive.
Anthony McClung had 3 catches for 42 yards. He's been taking a bigger role lately. That's been good to see. He had a lot of expectations on him. Injuries haven't helped. He's been playing well lately.
Brendon Kay was not very good. He was 17-31, 54.8% for 251 yards and 2 INTs. He had 97 of those yards on the frantic last 2 drives. He doesn't seem to overthrow or throw high like Munchie did, but he throws low a lot more. His accuracy wasn't really there last week and it wasn't really there this week.
Let's talk about his turnovers. His first interception was an underthrow on a long pass. His second INT was a killer. Rutgers had just had a penalty on a punt that had UC starting at the RU 49. Kay didn't see Steve Beauharnais fall back in coverage and threw a pass right to him. It was a very bad read. That was one of the swings of the game.
The time management by Butch Jones went unmentioned earlier so I'll talk about it now. In the first half, UC had all of their timeouts. Instead of calling them and forcing Rutgers to give the ball back to Cincinnati, he let Rutgers run the clock. Rutgers was due to receive the second half kick. Butch has done this before, Louisville game, and I don't agree with it. I would like to hear his reasoning.
Anyone who has played a football video game knows when you need 2 scores, as soon as you get in field goal range you go for the kick. UC got the ball at the 20 with 45 seconds left. Instead of kicking, Brendon Kay was sacked. UC ran 2 more plays and kicked a field goal with 11 seconds left. Even if UC had recovered the onside kick, they would have had 10 seconds. That's only time for a hail mary. This was poor clock management.
Hats off to Rutgers. They are a good team. Savon Huggins was a beast. He ran 41 times for 179 yards. He was highly recruited and he showed why. I came away impressed.
Khaseem Greene was the co-Big East defensive player of the year last year. He's going to win the award hands down this year. He had 11 tackles, 3.5 for loss and 2 sacks. You always know where he is on the field. He's a hell of a player.
Second largest crowd of the season on Saturday. Hats off to everyone who showed up.
Photos via Cincinnati.com