Bearcats and Mustangs Keys To The Game

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bearcats come home to Nippert Stadium for the first time in nearly three weeks for a noon kickoff against Southern Methodist. This will also be the first time all season that the Bearcats have played a team with more than 1 win. SMU has some issues, but they are a stern test for this bunch ahead of a crucial finishing stretch of at Rutgers, at Houston and home against Louisville. Getting a win is a must for keeping UC's slim BCS hopes alive. These are the keys to the game.

Get Disciplined Pressure

On the face of it that shouldn't be a problem. SMU has allowed 21 sacks on the year, but there is more too it than that. The volume with which they throw the football means that they will give up some sacks. But the percentage of sacks that they allow is actually pretty good, just 5 percent of passing attempts result in sacks, which is actually a pretty good figure. So the offensive line is at least decent.

But the bigger concern for the Bearcats pass rush has to be containing Garrett Gilbert, who is by far the biggest running threat for the Mustangs. If you back out the sacks and the sack yardage Gilbert has run the ball 47 times for 345 yards and 5 TD's. He is, by far the biggest threat for the Mustangs on the ground, and he does his biggest damage by breaking the pocket. The best possible outcome for the Bearcats pass rush is for the defensive tackles to cut off escape routes up the middle and force Gilbert to hold onto the ball long enough for Silverberry Mouhon and Co. to get home.

Keep Brendon Kay Clean

This was a key for the Memphis game, it remains so for this game as well. Like Memphis SMU will play large stretches of this game in a three man front, the Mustangs base being a 3-4 defense. Picking up stunts from odd man fronts has been a problem all year long for the Bearcats. Memphis picked up two sacks, but they had constant pressure all night long.

The Mustangs defense depends on generating negative plays to work. If they can't generate sacks and tackles for loss en mass it puts them in a very bad spot. They simply don't have the depth or talent to hold up without those plays, and that is particularly true against the pass.

Forget About Balance

It might be anathema to Eddie Gran, but if ever there was a game where you pass to win this is it. SMU has precisely one competent player in the back end, and that is Kenneth Acker. The Bearcats have a never ending stable of receivers and a quarterback who has gone 75 for his last 96 passes for 891 yards with 7 touchdowns and 1 interceptions. Kay now gets to face the 113th ranked pass defense on 10 days rest and as close to 100 percent health as he has been all year. Throw it until they stop, and if they don't stop it then keep on throwing.

Don't Let Bad Plays Snowball

In the Bearcats two losses this year the team has not responded well at all to adversity. Against Illinois the team imploded in the first quarter before regaining some composure before storming back to tie on a Munchie Legaux TD run that was incorrectly overturned. Nick Temple forced a fumble that was also incorrectly overturned and Illinois drove 99 yards to score a TD. UC responded, but when Munchie went down the bottom dropped out once again.

Against USF the Bearcats played the worst first quarter since the opening frame against Fresno State in 2010, because they let one big play become several. The Bearcats found themselves in a hole they couldn't dig out of. The team can't go into a funk when SMU makes plays. They have to be able to respond when that happens today.

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