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Advanced Statistical Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats Host The Houston Cougars

I have been doing these deep statistical dives on the Bearcats and their opponents for the better part of the season. Not all of them have been published in this form. Early in the year this is simply what I did in the research phase of any game week. The Cougars are the only team I have seen this year where the traditional stats veer so wildly from what the advanced metrics say.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati Offense Houston Defense
S&P+ 108.4 (35th) 97.1 (74th)
Success Rate 45.2 (36th) 40.3 (56th)
ISO PPP .92 (30th) .73 (10th)
Rushing S&P 107.9 (49th) 82.6 (114th)
Passing S&P 125.3 (21st) 90.9 (96th)
Standard Downs S&P 112.3 (35th) 86.2 (115th)
Passing Downs S&P 134.6 (16th) 90.9 (99th)

At this point we know who the Bearcats are as an offense. They are a team that is at their best when they are rolling with a pass first, pass often offense. Gunner Kiel has clearly been slowed down tremendously by his rib injury. The emergence of Mike Boone, Rod Moore and the running game has meant that the Bearcats have not needed to be as pass heavy as they were in the early going of this year. The Bearcats have been winning with the running game for most of this six game stretch, but they will need to get back to the passing game against the Cougars.

Now that obviously comes with risks against a Houston team that is renowned for their ball hawking. But it is my opinion that the Houston defense comes with a reputation for competency and excellence that I just don't see. Their traditional stats place them near the top of the country in both phases of the game. But those numbers are not opponent adjusted like the S&P numbers are. So their is no accounting for who the Cougars have played 6 of their 11 games against offenses that rank among the 20 worst in the country according to S&P+; Tulane, Tulsa, South Florida, SMU, UTSA and UNLV. Playing that many bad offenses can do a lot to inflate the stats of a defense, as it has for Houston. That's why I take the S&P+ numbers a little bit more faithfully than I do the raw adjusted stats. Taking into account the fact that the Cougars have played an abnormal amount of abnormally bad offenses the Cougars are below average.

They do some things extremely well, like disrupt the passing game in general. Then there are the turnovers which have made a traditionally volatile aspect of the game into a bankable commodity. I really like Efrem Oliphant and the way that he plays the game. He truly is the perfect muse for David Gibbs chaotic scheme because he can blitz with effectiveness and he is one of the Cougars better pass defenders from his linebacker position. William Jackson is an extremely active defensive back. The Cougars have good players, but so much of their defensive identity is dependent on getting inordinate amounts of pressure on the opposing quarterback, which is something that they will struggle to do with any consistency.

The real reason that I like this match up for the Bearcats offense is a much simpler one. The Cougars have great pass defense stats; they are active in the throwing lanes and do a good job of keeping quarterbacks from completing at a high percentage. But that has come against average to terrible passing offenses, they simply haven't seen anyone who plays like the Bearcats or who posses the Bearcats array of receivers. They will challenge the Cougars secondary, and UC tends to win those match ups.

Cincinnati Defense Houston Offense
S&P+ 95.0 (81st) 94.3 (87th)
Success Rate 43.6 (92nd) 40.4 (84th)
ISO PPP .82 (52nd) .82 (82nd)
Rushing S&P 92.2 (93rd) 101.3 (68th)
Passing S&P 97.2 (80th) 77.7 (119th)
Standard Downs S&P 98.3 (76th) 93.6 (88th)
Passing Downs S&P 88.9 (103rd) 80.2 (114th)

For what seems like the 8th week in a row the Bearcats are going to be playing an offense that plays into the hands of the UC defense. There is simply no getting around the fact that the Cougars offense is a mess right now, and has been a mess for most of the season. For whatever reason the Cougars dangerous and explosive offense of a year ago has completely fallen apart this year. The biggest difference between this year and last, the Cougars get nothing, and I mean NOTHING from the passing game.

John O'Korn was largely ineffective this season, coming into tomorrow's game with a QB rating for the year of 100.38. He was so bad that Troy Levine made the decision to turn to Greg Ward Jr., a 5'11" receiver who, like so many kids these days, got his start as a play making quarterback. The effect has been to make the Houston offense, in effect, an all time Wildcat.

The Houston running game has seen a dramatic uptick because of that change, but they are still not a team that can regularly bank on outbursts from their offense to carry the day. They need to play in tight controlled games where their lack of big play ability won't be an issue. Enter a Bearcats defense that is on an absolute tear right now and you have to like the Bearcats chances here.

Cincinnati Offensive Line Houston Defensive Line
Rushing Yards Per Game 158.09 (71st) 134.91 (31st)
Rushing Yards Per Carry 4.60 (49th) 3.54 (25th)
TFL Per Game 3.18 (1st) 5.36 (93rd)
Sacks Per Game 1.09 (17th) 2.00 (69th)
Sack Rate 2.8 % 6.1 %
Pressure Rate 7.2 % 14.7 %
Cincinnati Defensive Line Houston Offensive Line
Rushing Yards Per Game 176.73 (81st) 176.73 (55th)
Rushing Yards Per Carry 4.61 (87th) 4.63 (47th)
TFL Per Game 5.73 (72nd) 6.91 (105th)
Sacks Per Game 2.73 (27th) 2.64 (104th)
Sack Rate 7.2 % 9.5 %
Pressure Rate 12.0 % 13.9 %