CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 15: Isaiah Pead #23 and Anthony McClung #6 of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrate after Pead scored a touchdown during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
There is a subtle difference between an effective offensive Football team and an explosive offense. Effective offenses move the ball down the field, but they don't produce big plays all that often. Explosive offenses are the ones that routinely cover 70+ yards in two minutes of less. It is not a distinction that seems to get made all that often by those that cover the sport. But in one off situations, like bowl games, and to a lesser extent individual games in the course of a season, they can have a tremendous impact on a teams chances of winning a single game.
By the high standards set by previous UC offenses this team fits more into the mold of an effective offense rather than an explosive one. Just scrolling through the national statistical rankings makes it clear that the Bearcats are not among the elite of the elite on the offensive side the ball this year. 69th in passing, 53rd in total offense, 38th in rushing and 27th in scoring. The Bearcats were merely effective on Offense. Except that they weren't, not really.
One of the biggest differences between these Bearcats and previous spread iterations is that for the first time since 2007 the Bearcats ran the ball more than they passed it. By alot. Even last years offense, which was far closer to balanced than anything from the Brian Kelly era, still threw the ball 435 times against 402 runs. This year completed the passing of the torch (get it?) from the BK era (472 passes, 361 runs) to the balanced or Butch Jones approach (456 rushes, 363 passes).
In normal circumstances the shift from a pass centric approach to a run centric one means numbers fall across the board. Generally speaking running the ball takes more time (meaning fewer plays on average), produces lower yields per play and limits big plays because there are so many people in front of the ball compared with passing. All of which is true of UC this year, just look at the stats for 2011 compared with 2010. Down across the board, with one big exception, the only one that really matters, scoring.
In my mind the biggest reason for the jump in scoring and offensive output has been the play of Isaiah Pead. Pead is a game changer for the Bearcats. Not only is he a workhorse running back, with a career high 17 attempts per game with three catches per game for good measure. But he still is one of the best backs in the nation at producing big plays with 17 plays of 20 yards or longer and 13 of 30 or longer. Effectively what Isaiah Pead does is elevate the threat level of the Bearcats offense because he is always a threat to break a big one, even if he is the only threat to break a big one.
Defenses always have to be cognizant of Pead because he is such a threat to break one at any moment. The attention he gets from defenses allow the rest of the offense to operate (more or less) unencumbered to do what they do best, which is to methodically move the ball down the field with short low margin of error passing games. In effect Pead buys the rest of the offense space to do what they do. That is why Pead has been such a huge weapon for this team. There is simply no way this group of players puts 33 points on the game every game without the presence of Isaiah Pead.