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State of the Union With Bearcats Blog

This week in lieu of a game I had a little email conversation with Scot over at Bearcats Blog about the current state of the UC program. A number of topics were touched on, such as disappointing performances so far, what the expectations are for the rest of the season, and so on and so forth. Without further delay.

BearcatsBlog: My confidence in the team is fairly high considering they are 1-3, and haven't beaten an fbs team. I don't see any reason why they couldn't win the Big East. Can you? I shouldn't be so confident, but I think even if they lose at UConn or in Morgantown, they can still win the league. I saw that you ranked UC 2nd in your SB Nation poll, so you have the same confidence in them I gather?

My expectations for the season have fluctuated seemingly every game. I was more down after the fairly dull ISU win than I was after NC State blowout. I partially blame UC for terrible scheduling for that loss. 3 games in less than 3 weeks, while going cross country is dumb. It didn't give the team enough time to game plan for the other 2 with Vidal getting injured, which I think showed. I think this bye week is going to do some good. To be honest, I would be disappointed if they didn't hang 40 on Miami. 

I don't know about you, but I think the most surprising thing has been the run defense. Even when teams try to run on UC, they can't. I don't know anyone who would have thought they would have a top 20 run defense. And those who did think it, probably wouldn't have thought UC to be 1-3. Number two would be DJ Woods. He hasn't replaced what Mardy Gilyard did on special teams, but he's been fairly amazing this season. I know everyone probably is thinking run defense, but I'm hoping you have some other thing that I didn't think about as your surprise. 

You can't spell disappo-ffensiveline-inting unit without offensive line. The line was a concern at the start of the year, but it was a sieve the first few games. The OU game was a step forward, but I'm not going to buy in fully just yet. Number two there would be the secondary. They have one guy I trust, Reuben Johnson, and the rest aren't very good at coverage. They are very good against the run, but there are so many breakdowns it's mind numbing after a while. I'm worried about the loss of Battle for the season. It's a shame for him, he's always hurt.

I don't think Butch Jones is Kragthorpe yet. I feel a little bad for saying he had a Kragthorpian start after the Fresno game. All the Krag jokes on twitter during the NC State game made me believe in Butch, just because I felt someone had to. I don't know if he's a good coach or not, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt now. Unless they lose to Miami, Louisville, or Syracuse. 

I don't think we know who this team is yet. I don't think they are as bad as the NC State loss. I kinda want to write off the OU game since they were going to be up for that no matter what. It's very hard to get a read on this team. What's your take?

Down the Drive: I am with you as far as confidence in the team goes. I am none to happy about being 1-3 right now, but coming into the season I was thinking the team would finish anywhere from 7-5 to 9-3. Even after the bad start, that is still in play. At this point UC can beat every single team left on the docket if they play like they did Saturday. On the flip side, they could conceivably lose to any of those teams.

My expectations going into the season were tempered. There was the new staff, and coaching transitions rarely go as well as the Dantonio to Kelly one did, there was a ton of turnover on the roster. Right now there are 60+ freshmen and sophomores on scholarship out of a possible 85. The last time the roster was that young was back in 2005 when Mickens, Byrd and co started as Freshmen. Those two things knocked expectations way down, the Fresno State game but them in the basement from which they are only just emerging. I don't expect an Oklahoma performance every week, but I do expect a higher level of execution than what was on display for the first 3 games.

I am with you on the run defense being a surprise, I knew Derek Wolfe would dominate the point of attack, but the entire front 7 has played extremely well. However for me the biggest surprise has been Malik Bomar. The expression that was bestowed upon him by John Jancek, that he will put his facemask in fan is pretty apt. He isn't the biggest guy at his position, but he plays at warp speed at all times. To top it all off he is a sound tackler. Bomar has been a very pleasant surprise to me.

The offensive line has been disappointing. But the biggest disappointment to me is that it took the coaching staff three games to realize that C.J. Cobb flat out can't play tackle in a spread offense. He doesn't have the hands, foot speed or lateral quickness to play in space. My friend Al had taken to calling him the Anti-Block at tackle, because like Anti-Matter destroys any matter it touches, Cobb destroyed every blocking scheme he touched at tackle. Three games to realize it wasn't working and to move him to guard where he was very effective against Oklahoma. That it took the staff three games to come to that realization was more disappointing to me than his actual performance. 

Following on your Kragthorpe comment I just thought it was way too early for people to even entertain that thought. Jones stepped into a situation that was good, but it wasn't so good that it was foolproof. There is a chance that he could go down that path, but I think that is unlikely at this point. He and his staff have at least learned from the mistakes they made early on, the Oklahoma game sort of makes that point. It's just that they don't learn and adjust to issues nearly as fast as Brian Kelly did.

I think that this team has an identiy now, they are playing with swagger, speed and purpose again. That was one of my biggest issues with the first three games, no one was playing fast, rather hardly anyone was playing fast. The defining characteristic of the teams from the past 3 years was that above all else they played fast. That speed and that swagger seems to be back. I feel I have a good read on the team now. I could be completely wrong with what I think they are, a team that runs the football to set up play action strikes on offense and stops the run with basic coverages in the back. It's not great, I would like to see more aggresion in the secondary, but I at least know what this team is and what it does well. Knowing that isn't quite worth the 1-3 start, but having an identity with that record is better than going 1-3 and being completely lost, which was my greatest fear.

that's my take(s). Let me know if there are any other topics you want to touch on.

BB: There are a couple of smaller topics I thought of. 

What upcoming game are you most worried about? Mine is Louisville. It's the only road game, where UC hasn't played well. It's on national TV, which might be the only Louisville game on national tv this season, at least it's the first. It's the Big East opener, and Louisville always seems to play us well in Louisville. 

What player do you think is going to break out who hasn't yet? I'll say Anthony McClung. I loved what I saw against OU. Bones has had , what, 1 game where he's had a catch? I think McClung is going to take more of his plays and be the third receiver by the end of the season. 

If not UC, who do you think is going to win the Big East? It's easy to say West Virginia, but I think that Pitt shouldn't be written off, even though their offense sucks. Dion Lewis can't be this bad all season right?

DTD: In terms of a game I am worried about, it has to be at UConn. UC has played in Hartford twice, going 1-1. The lone victory, in 2006, came on a last second Kevin Lovell field goal to seal the trip to the International Bowl. UConn is always a well coached team and they play very well at home beyond that UConn has played UC tough the last few years, arguably better than any other team in the conference.

In terms of a breakout player, I would go with Dan Giordano. He remains the only person on the team to register more than one sack this season. He went for 1 1/2 last weekend and isn't likely to face a better pair of tackles until the Pitt game plus he is going to get one v one opportunities the rest of the year because of the attention Derek Wolfe commands in the interior.

I would go ahead and write Pitt off. They are just terribly coached. It's like Frank Cignetti Jr. can no longer offset the negative impact the Stache's ideas and philosophy has on the team. Pitt has lots of young talent, but Wanstache has no idea how to develop personnel. He couldn't do it with the Bears, or Dolphins and his two good years at Pitt were because he had deep experienced teams, only one of those adjectives can apply to this group. Lots of talent zero experience for most.

WVU has to be the pick. They have the best defense, a calm, relatively steady QB in Geno Smith and an offense that has enough play makers to make do.