Bearcats Running Game Facing Biggest Challenge Of The Season

Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

The Cincinnati Bearcats have won 7 games this season despite suffering through a rash of average, touching on bad, quarterback play from Munchie Legaux. The Bearcats this season, just as last, have won by running the football. Coming into today's contest the Bearcats are leading the Big East in rushing, preparing to face one of top run defenses in the country.

Rutgers is ranked 17th nationally in yards per game allowed, 10th in yards per carry allowed, and 3rd in rushing TD's allowed with just 5 allowed all season long. The numbers are impressive, the trend line is not. This raises obvious questions. Are the Scarlet Knight's stats a product of bad competition, or have they simply had off days for the last month or so.

So far this season Rutgers has faced the number 123rd, 52nd, 106th, 119th, 56th, 55th, 15th and 1st* ranked rushing offenses in the country. They have faced an almost comically equally distributed cross section of rushing attacks. On the one hand you have Tulane and UConn whose rushing, and general offensive, ineptitude knows no bounds. On the other is Kent State and Army two teams who run to win, the Black Knights in particular. Army is averaging 67.7 rushing attempts per game. That is the most in at least a decade, probably much, much longer (the NCAA's online records stop at 1999)

* Howard ranks 17th in the FCS in rushing, but there is an obvious and unquantifianble gap in talent between the FBS and FCS so they are excluded from the discussion

The Scarlet Knights have allowed more than 100 yards in each of the last three games, Temple went over 100 yards; Kent State and Army both topped 200 yards in games that were close until the end. This is not to say that their run defense is bad. They did hold Kent State and Army below their season averages. But the numbers are slightly inflated by playing a disproportionate number of out right bad and average rushing attacks.

For Bearcat fans the game that you need to look at is the Kent State one, and not just because that is the one game Rutgers has lost. Kent State is a team's who's personnel, though not scheme exactly, mirrors that of the Bearcats. KSU is on a program best run this season, and their offense is powered by a pair of running backs in Trayion Durham (of Colerain fame) and Dri Archer (who should be more famous for being named Dri Archer).

Durham was the B-Back for the Cards triple option system and continues to run downhill with a tremendous amount of power. Archer is a small back (5'8" 164) who has speed to burn and demands the attention of a defense any time they are on the field. The Goerge Winn/Ralph David Abernathy IV comparison writes itself. The Golden Flashes gave Rutgers hell by pounding Durham up the middle, and giving them a steady dose of Archer to the outside. Archer touched the ball a season high 20 times in that game.

If I were a coach, and I am definitely not, I would take the essence of what Kent did and apply it to the Bearcats personnel. So yes, Winn is probably staring at another 25+ carry work day, and RDA4 will be as involved in the offense as possible. I would set a target of 20 touches from scrimmage for Abernathy. At the same time, I wouldn't lose sight of the Bearcats other weapons.

The Rutgers defense is not an unassailable fortress. They are good, but they aren't without weaknesses. I don't see anyone on Rutgers who can handle RDA4 in space. Similarly I don't think throwing Khaseem Greene at Travis Kelce will take him out of the game. But to truly bring those guys into play as threats the running game has to produce to make the play action passing game effective for Brendon Kay. But to truly do that the Bearcats have to produce in the running game, and do so against the best defense UC has faced all season long.

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