UC must pressure Geno Smith early and often (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure
For the Cincinnati Bearcats defense the game plan should be very simple. The primary objective? Get to Geno Smith before he can get to the secondary. We all know that the raw numbers for the secondary aren't good, 104th in passing yards allowed, 78th in pass efficiency defense. Down to down this secondary can't begin to hold against Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and co. But the one thing this secondary is good at is capitalizing on mistakes from opposing QB's. Geno Smith has only thrown 5 INT's on the season, but he has been turnover prone in his last three games because Rutgers, Syracuse and Louisville all had success getting their blitzes to hit home, all three defenses picked up at least two sacks against the Mountaineers. UC must do the same thing.
It's not often that a nickle back is singled out as a key player in a game, but that's what Williams has become. UC will line up predominately in the nickle against West Virginia's 3+ receiver sets. Chris has become a very quiet standout for the Bearcats. His numbers aren't great, he is a situational player after all. But his ability to cover slot receivers and blitz effectively is invaluable for this defense. Williams will be a focal point in this game. If he can match his performance from the Pitt game (4 tackles, 2 TFL and a sack) it will bode well for UC.
Both guys were coming off injuries last week, and both of them struggled big time. West Virginia doesn't have a great defensive line, but Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin are two of the most talented DE's in the conference. Neither has had an exceptional season. But they are a constant danger. The Mountaineers secondary is good, but they aren't suffocating. For Zach Collaros to be able to make plays he needs time, so Hooey and Hoffman need to be near the top of their games.
The Mountaineers defense has struggled all year long with gap containment. iPead is the kind of runner who is capable of punishing, brutally, mistakes in gap containment. Ask Louisville. I expect UC to break out the heavy package in a big way this week. The 3-3-5 is the perfect defense to utilize that personnel grouping. Pead broke off the Mountaineers for a 52 yarder last year. The key thing is for him to not force plays and let the blocking develop naturally.
The Mountaineers are struggling in a big way in the kicking game. On paper UC has an advantage in the kicking game, though the returns will continue to be an issue. I would almost prefer that UC send no one out for punt returns at this point. But Ralph Abernathy IV is good for one big return a game, but the consistency has been lacking. UC needs to punish the Mountaineers in special teams.