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These are the three aspects of tomorrows contest with Virginia Tech that will be instrumental in the Cincinnati Bearcats winning or losing.
It is game day eve in Bearcat land. The team touched down in Washington this morning and recently completed their walk through at FedEx Field. At this point all that stands between them and the game are a couple team meetings and a night of sleep. So this is as good a time as any look at some of the key factors for tomorrows game.
Push The Pace
I know that this is something that I hammer on before every game, but this contest is the reason for that. It is vital that the Bearcats get more plays off on offense than the Hokies do. That makes sense on a basic level, after all the more opportunities you get to score the better. But the reason the Bearcats need to play with a faster tempo is strategic in nature.
Virginia Tech is coached by one of the best, if not the best, defensive coordinators this side of Nick Saban, Bud Foster. Saban is the best, but he needs to step up his cartwheel game to match Foster. Besides his cartwheeling what makes foster so good is his ability to disguise looks, be it coverage or pressure. Anyone who watched the Orange Bowl, so I presume all of you, can remember Foster's secondary baiting Tony Pike into four interceptions, and seemingly countless other bad decisions.
This Virginia Tech secondary doesn't come close to the level achieved by that 2008 group with Cam Chancelor, Macho Harris, and Cody Grim among others. For a start they don't have that kind of depth in the secondary. The stats are OK in terms of pass defense, but they are greatly aided by playing two teams that either can't (Georgia Tech), or won't pass (Austin Peay). The secondary is the weak point for Virginia Tech, and any Hokie will tell you.
The Bearcats have the ability to exploit those secondary issues, the talent is there at WR, but cranking up the pace will help in that respect. Often overlooked in discussion of teams going no huddle is that it really limits what the defense can do. They can't change personnel, unless the offense does, and disguising coverages becomes much harder when the main goal goes from disguising looks to running plays.
Pitt, never a team known for pushing the tempo, got off 83 plays against the Hokies in their shocking upset. That was the highest total against an FBS team since 2008.* The Bearcats have topped 80 just twice since the start of the Butch Jones era. 86 against Rutgers, in what shall forever be known as the Isaiah Pead game, and 90 against USF, both in 2010. 80 should be the target for UC tomorrow.
* They did get off 90 snaps against Maine in 2011 but, you know, it was Maine.
Make Logan Thomas One Dimensional
It is no secret that Virginia Tech's offense will go as Logan Thomas goes. He is the most dynamic offensive weapon that Hokies have, all due respect to Marcus Davis. As such, it is important for the Bearcats to get to Thomas early and often. Virginia Tech's offensive line has issues, the main one being that its playing like an offensive line that lost four starters. The Bearcats have to dominate that match up, while at the same time being cognizant of the threat that Thomas poses with his legs. The best way to see that through is to put Thomas on the ground early and often. UC needs to put Thomas in the position where he has to make throws to win the game.
Control The Point of Attack
The biggest threat to any zone blocking rushing attack is up field penetration. The Hokies are really the first team the Bearcats will face with the personnel to attack Don Mahoney's schemes in that particular way. The stats don't show this disruptive quality for the Hokies, they are just 40th nationally in TFL's per game, but they have often been in good position, particularly in the Pitt game, without finishing plays. That's why the Wham concept, discussed last week, will be important. That wrinkle allows the linemen to release from their combo blocks, and get to the linebackers a fraction earlier. That's big in this game, because Bruce Taylor and Jack Tyler play downhill. Cutting those two off before they get going is probably the biggest key to the Bearcats running game tomorrow.