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Eddie Gran Is Just The Worst, Or Is He

Cincinnatians are naturally a pessimistic people. I don't know where the impulse to constantly assume that the sky is falling comes from. Maybe it has something to do with the river, but you know it's not like your river ever caught on fire on national TV. Maybe it is something to do with the fact that, with the exception of Procter and Gamble, every good thing the city has ever had has left, only to returned after being washed up. I don't know what it is. But the general opinion of the Bearcats football team right now is overwhelmingly negative. For a city named for the most noble of all Romans, the Queen City can very easily embody the worst aspects of the Roman mob.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

If you hopped onto Bearcat Banter or Bearcat News or any of the other online portals that traffic in reactionary vitriol it is impossible to go five posts without seeing someone call for Eddie Gran's head. Every complaint you could imagine was there. According to the message board experts the play calling is unimaginative, the scheme doesn't match the personnel, Mike Bajakian would never call such a bad game. Most of the focus comes down to one thing, Ralph David Abernathy IV being run up the middle.

The misconception that was attached to Eddie Gran's scheme at his hiring is still there. Everyone thought, and continues to think, that Eddie Gran is bringing old school SEC Football to the Bearcats. We're talking I-formation, power, counter trey football. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase "Big 10" or "SEC" in a complaint about Eddie Gran I could quit my job. The problem with all these complaints is that they have no basis in reality.

For a start the staff Gran assembled doesn't match that stereotype. The only guys who were actually at an SEC or a Big 10 job before Gran called them are receivers coach Blake Roland and passing game coordinator Darin Hinshaw two guys whose coaching godfather is Joe Tiller, who is no one's idea of a stereotypical Big 10 coach.

On the field those complaints ring hollow as well.  The Bearcats base personnel grouping is 11, meaning one back, one tight end, three receivers. 11 was, coincidentally, the base personnel grouping of Butch Jones and Brian Kelly. The only difference is that the Bearcats occasionally use a full back now. The message boards will tell you that the Bearcats use a full back on every play these days, that is simply not true. My charting puts two backs in the backfield on roughly 37 per cent of plays. That 37 percent counts occasions where a tight end lines up as an H-Back as being a second back. The percentage of plays where Jared Golden is deployed as a traditional full back is lower,  probably something around 20 per cent. No one could possibly confuse the offense the Bearcats are actually playing with Wisconsin of the Bielema vintage, and yet there is a sizable portion of the Bearcats fan base that thinks that is exactly what Gran is doing.

There is a factual rebuttal to almost every complaint people have about Eddie Gran. (these are actual comments from UC fans that I have seen on twitter or on message boards, usually from more than one person)

  • "He doesn't take enough shots down the field."
  • Through four games the Bearcats have thrown 18 passes beyond 20 yards, completing 8 of them for 318 yards with three scores and three interceptions. Through four games in 2012 the Bearcats attempted just 11 passes longer than 20 yards and completed only five of them, most of them in the Virginia Tech game.
  • "The pace is too slow"
  • The Bearcats are averaging 75.5 snaps per game, almost 7 more plays per game than the average Jones/Bajakian offense. Gran's group snaps the ball every 25 seconds, Jones and Bajakian every 31.
  • "UC is running the ball too much"
  • In non garbage time* the Bearcats have run on 52 per cent of snaps and passed on 48 percent. The average run pass ratio in the Butch Jones era 54/46 run.
  • "The Bearcats don't generate enough big plays"
  • In four games UC has 22 plays of 20 yards or more, an average of 5.5 per game. The Jones era produced 5.4 plays of 20+ yards per game.

*Garbage time defined as situations in the second half where one team is head by three touchdowns or more.

It is a fact that the Bearcats offense has not been splitting defenses open from navel to chin like Baylor, Oregon or Clemson has been doing. But the general feeling among fans of the Bearcats that the offense is underachieving doesn't make a lot of sense to me, and it doesn't show up in the stats either.

I expected the offense to be above average, and above average it is, at least from a national perspective. Expecting anything more than that in a transition year, with a brand new coaching staff, and breaking in a whole bunch of new rotational players. I don't begrudge anyone for having high expectations in August when camp got going. But as the pre season, and early season, wore on and the injuries piled high you have to start adjusting your expectations downward.

Dan Sprague injured his knee. Munchie Legaux injured his leg in ghastly fashion. Alex Chisum has yet to play in a game because of a leg injury. Anthony McClung has been limited with a dodgy hamstring. Tion Green broke his nose and has only played in two games because of it. I made some fun of Brendon Kay's shoulder injury in August, but it has clearly affected his play.

That is five (six if you count both quarterbacks) guys who were expected to be integral pieces of the offense that have been lost or limited by injury this season. As a result there are a slew of players this season who are getting their first extended looks.

Deyshawn Bond is starting in Sprague's place and has generally exceeded expectations, though he got worked by Austin Brown and Miami. Max Morrison is starting in Chisum's place and has looked like a keeper, aside from a couple drops against Illinois. Shaq Washington is starting in McClung's place and is turning to a great outlet working underneath. That is three players getting their first real extended experience, and they are generally thriving despite being young. That’s not even mentioning how many offensive linemen are getting their first extended experience (Cory Keebler, Kevin Schloemer, Andre Cureton) or the tight ends which is Blake Annen and two freshmen, DJ Dowdy and Travis Johnson (though Johnson is probably out of the rotation for the rest of the year). Even Jared Golden is brand new to football.

It’s not that hard to reasonably make the case that the question about the Cincinnati offense shouldn't be "why isn't the offense better?!?!" It probably should be "how, with this rash of injuries, first time contributors and a brand new scheme is the Bearcats offense as good as it is?” It’s a far more relevant question, but not one being asked by anyone.

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