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Bearcats and Hokies Will Battle Deep Down The Field

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In our series of posts detailing the five biggest questions of the Military Bowl we finally come across the biggest match up of them all. The Cincinnati Bearcats excellent and chronically underrated receivers against Kendall Fuller and the Hokies great secondary.

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The Cincinnati Bearcats have a passing game that is rated 14th in passing S&P+. Virginia Tech has a defense that is ranked 2nd in passing S&P+. UC is ranked 13th in passing yards per game, Virginia Tech is 15th in passing yards allowed per game. The Bearcats are 29th in yards per pass, the Hokies are 30th in yards per pass allowed. The Hokies allow teams to complete passes at a 47 percent clip, the Bearcats complete passes at a 61 percent rate.  UC has 33 passing touchdowns against 12 interceptions, the Hokies have allowed just 11 touchdowns and picked off 10 passes. I could keep going with the stats, but this is obviously strength against strength.

The biggest question for this is what is the approach going to be, on both sides of the ball. For the last month of the season the Bearcats offense became far less risk averse than it was early in the year. Eddie Gran and Co. had no problem riding the running of Rod Moore and Mike Boone to a pair of low output games against UConn and especially Temple.

The Temple game is really interesting to consider heading into this game with the Hokies. For a start that was one of the games where Gunner Kiel played from start to finish, as most will expect him to do against Virginia Tech. But it wasn't a game like those earlier in the season where UC put the ball in Gunner's hands and told him to go win it. His impact on the affair was more limited, and that was by design for Temple.

The Owls have a nasty defense, one that is on par with the Hokies in a number of different categories including passing yards per game, passing yards per attempt, touchdown interception ratio and passer rating allowed. Outside of Virginia Tech that was by far the best secondary the Bearcats came up against in 2014. And the Bearcats declinded to give them battle on that front.

There is a reason for that, the way that Temple defends the pass is with depth and depth. In other words they put a lot of men in coverage on every snap, and they played them at deeper depths than the Bearcats were used to seeing. Because of that the Owls presented the Bearcats with relatively empty boxes, which the Bearcats gladly ran against for modest gains.

The approach from the Hoakies will be different in a couple of key areas. VT will be more aggressive against the run and won't present nearly as many light boxes as Temple did. They will also be far more aggressive in pressuring the Bearcats receivers at the line of scrimmage. No one has really employed that approach against the Bearcats for a sustained period of time. But Bud Foster and this defense will, they have well deserved confidence in their abilities to defend the vertical passing game. Likewise the Bearcats receivers, Chris Moore and Mekale McKay in particular, are liable to view one on one coverage an easy win for them.

The approach of the Bearcats and the Hokies sets up an interesting battle. VT wants to force the Bearcats to pass the ball deep down field into coverage. They want plenty of low percentage attempts down field because they think they can win there. Likewise the Bearcats like to take down field shots and reasonably assume that they are better at playing the deep pass than the defense. So who is right? Well, both of them.