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Cincinnati Bearcats vs East Carolina: Advanced Statistical Preview

In a lot of ways the Cincinnati Bearcats are mirror images of each other. The Pirates and the Bearcats boast between them the top two offensive attacks in the country according to Bill Connelly's S&P+ ratings. They also struggle to get consistent stops on the defensive end. The math says to expect points, and a lot of them.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

You can learn a little bit about the Bearcats and Pirates with traditional stats, you can glean more information by using the advanced statistics practiced by publications like Football Outsiders and SB Nation's own Football Study Hall. Definitions for the measures below can be found here.

Cincinnati Offense ECU Defense
S&P+ 108.7 (36th) 97.4 (71st)
Success Rate 45.2 (39th) 39.4 (50th)
ISO PPP .97 (15th) .77 (31st)
Rushing S&P 97.7 (76th) 108.4 (43rd)
Passing S&P 129.6 (14th) 79.4 (118th)
Standard Downs S&P 107.7 (46th) 94.5 (89th)
Passing Downs S&P 138.4 (15th) 77.9 (119th)

The Cincinnati Bearcats have had the good fortune to get their third and final bye just before the biggest game of the season. I am sure that the coaches in the Lindner Center were throwing chairs and doing other things that stereo typically angry people do when the schedule came out. Then they realized that UC would actually catch a break and get a bye before the ECU game, that made them less angry.

This game comes at a really good time for the offense. The Bearcats are not close to being at what I would consider to be full strength, they have lost, essentially two starting offensive linemen to injuries and two of the top three tailbacks. But that attrition has had a strangely positive effect on the offense. It has forced Eddie Gran and company to lean on guys that they weren't anticipating playing as starters, particularly up front but with Mike Boone as well, and those guys have generally thrived in their new roles. But the new look offensive line and Boone infused running game have not yet have the benefit of playing with a healthy-ish Gunner Kiel. It should all come together, to devastating effect against a Pirates defense that should be pretty compliant to the Bearcats.

The match up to watch in this one has nothing to do with the Gunner and the passing game, its the running game. East Carolina is likely to keep two high safeties at all times because they are rightly terrified of the Bearcats receivers, and their own inability to cover them in isolation. That should give the Bearcats the numbers up front to run the ball. The problem with that theory is that the Bearcats have really struggled to run the ball against 6 man fronts, which we can expect plenty of tomorrow. If UC can change that tomorrow and force the Pirates to respect the Bearcats running game and drop an occasional safety in the box, or bring in an extra linebacker the Bearcats should be able to keep pace with whatever ECU is doing to the Bearcats defense.

ECU Offense Cincinnati Defense
S&P+ 106.9 (39th) 92.9 (94th)
Success Rate 47.8 (19th) 47.4 (116th)
ISO PPP .87 (56th) .83 (62nd)
Rushing S&P 108.7 (50th) 94.9 (87th)
Passing S&P 101.2 (65th) 92.0 (93rd)
Standard Downs S&P 110.1 (46th) 96.2 (84th)
Passing Downs S&P 111.0 (37th) 88.5 (97th)

And ECU is going to some bad, bad things to the Bearcats defense. UC has played much, much better on defense in recent weeks. But the offenses that we are all basing that perceived improvement on are dreadful, among the very worst in the country. That is something that has to be acknowledged.

Personally I think the Bearcats are slightly better than the numbers say, but its not a huge change. UC has been playing like a defense that ranks in the mid 80's, but the problem with saying that is that there is no way to prove that. The results from that disastrous first five weeks are baked into the numbers and are weighing down that improvement. If you go back to this post from, say, the Memphis game and compare the Bearcats defensive numbers then to what they are now its hard to argue against at least some meaningful improvement from the defense. That's something you can see with the eye test too, the Bearcats look completely different in how much faster they are playing now than they were in September.

The question is whether that improvement is meaningful, or rather meaningful enough to give the offense some margin of error. On that front I don't know, but we will find out tomorrow against ECU. The interesting thing about the Pirates is how different their numbers are from their reputation. Don't get me wrong, the Pirates are very good on offense, but they aren't elite at any one phase of the game, they are simply very good at all of them. One way or another we will find out if the Bearcats defensive improvement is real, or simply the result of having three offense allergic teams back to back to back.