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Cincinnati Bearcats Revamped Run Defense Will Be Put To The Test

The Bearcats defense had a lot of problems early in the year, but the biggest of them by far was how permeable the run defense proved to be. That was less of a concern as the year went on, but a lack luster performance in the Houston game those concerns came back to the forefront. Enter a Virginia Tech team that has made running the football a point of emphasis.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The match up between the Bearcats run defense and the Virginia Tech rushing attack reminds me a lot of the Bearcats first match up in the Belk Bowl with the Duke Blue Devils. That was a Duke team that entered the game with what was considered to be a subpar rushing attack. They ended the year 100th in rushing yards per game, 94th in rushing yards per carry, but a more respectable 62nd in rushing S&P. With that Duke team it was hard to figure where the struggle came from. They had impressive size up front, a decent level of experience and a couple of young hard charging backs in Jela Duncan and Josh Snead. They should have been better than they were, and they were better in the Bowl Game.

I get the same kind of vibe from this Virginia Tech rushing attack, with one key difference. While the Duke running game was never really excellent or exceptional in any one game, they were pretty consistent game to game. The Blue Devils got a little something out of the running game, every game. These Hokies are very much boom or bust, but their injuries up front and at tailback have a lot to do with that.

They had two games where they topped the 200 yards on the ground, and another where they came within a yard of doing so (against Virginia). But they also had three games where they failed to top 100 yards including a 22 carry, 26 yard outing against Pitt. A Pitt defense that ended the year ranked 1 spot behind the Bearcats in rushing defense according to S&P+. UC is currently ranked 92nd.

For most of this season the Hokies have been a team that relied on the arm of Michael Brewer to an extent that is uncommon with a Virginia Tech program that has built so much of their identity on employing a sound running game a dominant defense to secure 10 win seasons in perpetuity. Michael Brewer needs to attempt just 7 passes to set a new Virginia Tech record for team pass attempts in a season*

*Or at least since 2008, but knowing Virginia Tech probably much longer than that

But over the final three games of the season the Hokies showed a slighly more forceful approach with the running game, or at least in how often they tried to run the football. J.C. Coleman really rounded into shape in the Virginia game. Coleman really had no choice in the matter, with freshmen Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams both knocked out for the year with ACL tears it had to be Coleman, the lone veteran in an extremely young backfield.

Over the last three games Coleman has posted 104 yards per game on 5.5 yards per carry. That effectiveness has allowed the Hokies to take the ball out of Brewers hand on some possessions. The running game as a whole is not good , but Coleman is coming into this game on a bit of a hot streak, and that is the concern for me.