As one would expect in discussing a game that had just over 900 yards the offense is the starting point. Between Brendon Kay and Garrett Gilbert there were 79 pass attempts and only 14 incompletions, and three of those were drops from receivers. Adding in the two interceptions from Kay and the ball hit the ground just 9 times. That is hard to do against air, so yeah, plaudits to both quarterbacks Gilbert in particular was basically flawless.
As the announcers kept bringing up Gilbert is a guy who has been around the block a bit. After all the chaos and controversy he is nicely rounding into the kind of player everyone expected him to be when he was a consensus top 10 recruit for Mack Brown.
Gilbert didn't do anything super flashy today. He only pushed the ball deep a handful of times, once on the the evil post/wheel combo to Darius Joseph, once on a deep shot to Keenan Holman and a third on a deep misfire to Jeremy Johnson. For the most part Gilbert sat in the pocket and took what they Bearcats gave them, which was the short stuff over the middle.
SMU smartly took those yards that were offered, and they took them with gusto. In the final analysis three different wide receivers topped 100 yards*, two of them going over 10 catches** as well. As maddening as that approach can be, its what the Bearcats will continue to do on defense with the high powered passing games of Houston and Louisville fast approaching.
*Johnson, Joseph and Holman
**Johnson and Joseph
That approach from the Bearcats was not really a surprise. Art Kaufman and Co. had plenty of experience playing these kind of games in the Big 12. UC remained content to concede small chunks of yardage between the 20's confident in the defenses ability to bow up in the red zone when the field compresses and the spaces get tighter. As it turns out that confidence was well placed. In six trips into scoring position* the Mustangs kicked three field goals, missing two of them, and scoring touchdowns on the remaining three. This is the one game in which, for once, the other team played worse on special teams than the Bearcats did.
*Generally defined as the defenses 35 yard line and in
If you are looking for a singular difference in the game, the Bearcats performance in scoring position is probably it. In UC's five trips into scoring position resulted in three touchdowns, a Tion Green fumble and UC running out the clock to finish the game. UC was simply better with their scoring chances, and they not SMU got the explosive plays that resulted in touchdowns.
It greatly helped that the Bearcats were able to finally run the ball with some consistency, though without much explosiveness, in the second half. It shortened the game up, but it also kept the ball away from Gilbert, and partially contributed it Gilbert brief rocky patch in the third quarter when the SMU offense just could not find any consistency. Hosey Williams came back this week and delivered when Tion Green opened the door for him with that fumble.
It remains to be seen if this Bearcat team will be able to run like this when they have to against a better defense like Rutgers or Louisville. But considering just how spoty the running game was in general through the month of October any improvement, not matter how incremental is welcome. This was not a work of art, but any game where you can finish -3 in turnover margin and mange to win is a gift from the Football Gods and should be celebrated as such.