The Bearcats have gone with 3-WR and 4-WR sets quite a bit in the last two games. It's resulted in staggering success for a UC passing game that was a shell of itself in the weeks prior. Do you think we'll see Eddie Gran opt to go with these schemes for the remainder of the season or were Temple and UConn outliers in his grand plan of a run-heavy, multiple-tight end offense?
Chris: My hope is that Gran sticks with the spread-em-out, throw-it-around offense we've seen in recent weeks. But there are signs that UC's offensive coordinator has a habit of falling back into his comfort zone of a pro-style offense, such as running Ralph David Abernathy up the middle because he doesn't seem to know where the heck else to put him. But Cincinnati needs to win now and the pro-style schemes just weren't gelling with the players. I hope Gran shelves them for this year and revisits it in the off season.
Scott: It's hard to tell because the defense they play suck. That was pretty frank, but it's true. It'll be interesting to see what they break out against Rutgers. Cincinnati has had no offensive success against the Knights the past couple of years. I think Gran should mix and match and find out what's best before the real competition of Rutgers, Houston, Louisville and pending bowl opponent.
Also, let me just say that Louisville losing really screwed Cincinnati's bowl game. I'm not saying they could have gotten a great one, but they aren't going to the Russell Athletic Bowl and the rest after that are a stream of 6th place Big Whatever teams. Bleh.
Matt: Two things, the Bearcats are basically out of tight ends, in Blake Annen and D.J. Dowdy you basically have a single healthy tight end. At least that was the case the last time UC played. Travis Johnson who looked very promising is out for the year with a knee injury, he will be back as a red shirt freshman next year, which will be great for the attack next season, not so great this year.
On top of that is just makes so much more sense from a match-up perspective to continue to make the four receiver sets a feature of the offense. Shaq and McClung have caught 66 balls between them for an even 700 yards with 4 touchdowns. It is clear that the slot receivers are the main protagonists in this offense, and the normal response from defensive coordinators facing a dominant receiver in the slot is to shift your best cover guy inside. That won't work against UC.
The continuing emergence of Mekale McKay will give opposing defensive coordinators fits. Between McKay, Chris Moore and Max Morrison the Bearcats command the respect of defenses on the outside. Which takes the biggest trick in the book for dealing with Shaq and McClung off the table. They can't put their nickel back outside against Moore or McKay, they will get eaten alive. So they have to roll with a conventional nickel package. Very few teams have a third corner capible of playing Shaq or McClung straight up. Even if they do they still have one of them (usually Shaq) matched up on a linebacker, and that has been an easy win for UC all year. If the defense tries to bring another DB in and go to a dime look it gives UC an advantage in the running game.
Three and four receiver sets will continue to be the norm going forward, there is simply too much easy money to be made with the four receiver sets than to try to play some Bearcat based equivalent of Big Dumb Will Muschamp Football.
Since the beginning of the season, the Bearcats have had a staggering 12 surgeries this year. Is this just a case of Murphy's Law gone wild or is there are more specific reason for why so many UC players have gone under the knife this season?
Chris: Remember in Butch Jones' first year when he brought in a new strength and conditioning coach Dave Lawson and UC piled up an exorbitant amount of injuries that season? The reason was because of all new strength building techniques Lawson brought in. Now, long term it worked and the Bearcats were a stronger, better conditioned team because of it in 2011 and 2012 but that first year was rough. I'm curious if new S&C coach Joe Walker is bringing in new schemes that is wearing on the bodies of the players much like in 2010 and they are more susceptible to injury.
Scott: I think one guy saw someone have a surgery, get a card, be tended on by a pretty nurse and decided he had to get surgery as well. I'm calling surgery scam for the cards.
Matt: Its random IMO, can't predict or prevent injuries in football. All any of us know is that they usually happen at some point.
The Bearcats are ranked 13th in scoring defense, 13th in rushing defense, 12th in passing yards allowed, 21st pass efficency defense, 8th in total yards allowed and 20th in yards per play. Yet the same defense is ranked below average in the advanced metrics. 66th in F/+, 63rd in FEI, and 76th in the S&P+, all from Football Outsiders. So who has it right, the conventional stats guys or the nerds?
Chris: I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Obviously the talent on the defensive side of the ball is there but playing true freshmen quarterbacks in an offense that features just one playmaker isn't exactly the best litmus test for them. At the same time I don't think they're as bad as they showcased against Illinois, surrendering 45 points and over 500 yards to the Fighting Illini. The good news is that the Bearcats face a pretty strong offense coming up in SMU in two weeks. Then we'll have a better idea of what kind of defense UC truly possesses.
Scott: I'm going with the nerds. Going off of FEI and the S&P+, Cincinnati has played 4, soon to be 5, of the bottom 16 offenses in the nation. Miami has the worst offense in every metric. Sure, some of this is directly because of Cincinnati's defense. But Purdue, Miami, Connecticut and USF aren't scoring on anyone. This is leaving out Temple, who is ranked in the 90s.
The best offense Cincinnati played this season was Illinois. The Illini hung 45 points and over 500 yards on the defense.
To a certain point though, you are what your numbers say you are. Cincinnati has been a very good defense. When you add in things like context, it looks worse. But you can only put up stats against the teams you play against.
Matt: I think that the quality of completion has certainly driven down the Bearcats numbers in the advanced metrics, because all of them factor the quality of the opposition and the offenses the Bearcats have faced to date have been dreadful, Illinois aside. But I would still peg this group as a top 20 to 35 overall group. They have become very good on third downs, at getting to the quarterback and preventing red zone touchdowns, those are three areas closely associated with winning football games.
We touched on Tony Miliano's struggles before, but the entire special teams unit has been bad this year. The Football Outsiders have them ranked 120th, Phil Steele has them ranked 100th. Is this the new normal? Are the glory days of Kevin Huber and Mardy Gilyard gone for good?
Chris: Mardy Gilyard was a once in a lifetime player and in general good special teams units are driven by the strength of players more than the coaches. That's why teams like Alabama have consistently one of the better special teams units year in and year out; the talent of those players are just better than everybody else. That's also why Cincinnati seemed to dominate on special teams during the Brian Kelly era, because of the otherworldly skills of Gilyard. I wouldn't necessarily say the glory days are behind us but it's hard to tell if the Bearcats have another Gilyard-type player on the roster or coming into the program.
Scott: Yes. There isn't one area where you can point and say "This is a good unit." The kicking game as been talked about, the best, or at least most trusted, punter is the starting quarterback, kick returns are down and punt returns have been a disaster since Mardy left. I don't know if special teams coordinators have changed a lot, but putting an emphasis on the special teams would help a lot. I like the special teams where the best players on the team want to be on them because they are going to make plays. That's not the case at Cincinnati.
I have a feeling Cincinnati will lose a game because of special teams play directly this season. It happened last year with Toledo. I think it's coming again.
Matt: I don't see where the turnaround comes from. The coverage teams have generally been fine, but the return game just isn't there. It might be time to move someone else into the starting role as kickoff return man because it has been two solid years of diminishing returns for RDA4.
How impressed have you guys been with the play of Silverberry Mouhon this year? At his current pace he has an outside chance of threatening Anthony Hoke's single season sack record.
Chris: It's just unbelievable what Mouhon has done this year as just a sophomore, putting up 5.5 sacks and overall creating havoc in the opponent's backfield. I'm not sure how high his ceiling is but it appears limitless at this point. I'm really excited to see the kind of numbers he will put up not only this season but for the rest of his UC career.
Scott: Very. There was a lot of talk about how he was ready to take over the end position and he has done that for sure. He has been very explosive. The entire line has stepped up with his game lately. Worry about Silverberry and the linemen make plays. Block the ends one on one and Silverberry is in the backfield. He hasn't done much hell raising outside of rushing the passer, 0 tackles for loss outside of sacks, so he has more to work on. When Stewart went down last year, there was a giant void in the pass rush. It was one of my biggest questions coming into the season. The answer was Silverberry. No, I can't type his name enough.
Matt: Silverberry Mouhon is giving this defense the season that everyone thought Walter Stewart was going to provide last year. He isn't as consistently dominate as Walt was before he was forced to retire, but he flashes immense talent every game.
How do you see the rest of this season playing out. Of the remaining five games how many does UC win?
Chris: I see two potential losses out there as long as the Bearcats keep playing like they've been playing during the last couple of weeks. Memphis, SMU, and Rutgers don't really scare me, even though the Scarlet Knights have manhandled Cincinnati the last two years. Still, a big part of that was UC replacing their starting quarterback a game or so before playing Rutgers. Hopefully that doesn't happen this time around. But outside of those teams the Bearcats' only real threats are Houston and Louisville, who are playing like conference champions thus far. Now, those teams are nowhere near unbeatable but for Cincinnati to take them down they have to play sound football like they have in recent weeks.
Scott: 3-2. I'm going with a win over Memphis, bigger win over SMU, loss to Rutgers, beat Houston, lose to Louisville. Rutgers has had Cincinnati's number lately. Even if their defense isn't good this year, that's a hard place to play. I think Louisville is just better than the Bearcats.
I wouldn't totally put it out of the realm of possibility that Cincinnati loses 3 of 5 to close the year. The Big 12 certainly is not the American, so this comparison isn't the best. Tommy Tuberville hasn't won a road game in November since he coached at Auburn. In 2006. The absolute latest since then was a win on October 23, 2010. His teams at Texas Tech faded. His last team at Auburn was bad. 2006 was a long time ago.
Matt: 4-1. I think the loss comes either at Houston or at Rutgers.