Bearcats and Cardinals; Keg Of Keys

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The Bearcats and Cardinals will enter Nippert as two of the three best teams in the AAC, and the result won't change that broad strokes evaluation, but it could change the order a bit. But they come in with subtle variations in trend. Louisville has seemed to lose a step since going down to UCF, while the Bearcats have become the masters at dominating while playing as sloppy as possible. Regardless, this is shaping up to be another classic in a series that has had plenty of those in the last five meetings. As always here are your keys to a Bearcat win.

Draw The Turnover Battle

The most surprising thing about the Bearcats current winning streak is that over those six games the Bearcats are -2 in turnover margin. They won the SMU game despite being -3 and essentially drawing on offensive production. Against Houston and Rutgers UC turnovers gave the Knights and Cougars their only points of the game*. It goes without saying that they can't repeat those mistakes against the Cards. One or, heaven forbid, two turnovers in UC territory is almost a guaranteed loss against Louisville.

*In Rutgers case it gave them their only meaningful points of the game, garbage time scores being just that

The Cardinals have one of the best turnover margins in the country, but unlike Houston, its not about forcing gobs of turnovers. They are a respectable 29th in takeaways, but their margin is sky high because they simply don't turn the ball over. This goes back to Teddy Bridgewater. One of the many things that have scouts so enamored with him is his decision making. His interception rate has to be rounded up to .01 percent (its .008 in your calculator). Louisville won't give up many easy scoring chances to the Bearcats, UC can't give them back and expect a positive result.

Red Zone Woes

I touched on this a bit in the Cardinals statistical profile, but it bears repeating in this space. The only area of the field where the Cards are objectively bad is the red zone. Their scoring percentage in such situations is actually good, but there is a huge difference between kicking field goals and scoring touchdowns. The Cardinals are converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns on just 58 per cent of their trips, good for 85th nationally.

Both of these teams have generally excellent red zone defenses, so the final margin could come down to one team getting a touchdown while the other gets a fieldgoal. Given the Bearcats kicking this year I just hope that the team scoring a touchdown is UC.

Put The Cardinals In Space

One national publication described the Bearcats receivers today as marginal. They have obviously not watched UC play at all since the start of October because those marginal receivers are the key to the Bearcats consistently beating the pressure of the Cardinals.

Given how much Charlie Strong loves to stay in his base personnel groupings regardless of the offense he is likely to wind up with his linebackers who average 225 pounds for the two deep, 240 for the starters matched up on Shaq Washington or Anthony McClung. This won't be the first time a defense has tried the same tactic against the Bearcats slot quarks, but that has been a win all season long for the Bearcats. It has to be tonight as well.

Stop The Run With The Front 7

Teddy is at his most effective when the Cardinals can run enough for him to get the play action game involved. He is simply devastating on play action. UC will approach the Cardinals attack with a two deep shell keeping both safeties deep and allowing the Bearcats defensive line and linebackers to handle the running game themselves.

If the Bearcats have to bring Arryn Chenault or Zach Edwards into the box to deal with the run its a bad sign. Ideally UC keeps the running game in check with the defensive line and keeps both safeties high and the Cardinals are forced to methodically work the ball down the field in 5, 6 and 7 yard chunks. They can do that, but they aren't at their best doing it.

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