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What To Expect: Cincinnati Defense vs. Toledo Offense

The loss of Phillip Ely is a major blow for the Rockets. With Ely they had a bit more flexibility in terms of what they could do because of his ability as a runner. Likely starter Logan Woodside is not a threat to run, which will shift the focus from the quarterback to the running back.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

In their offensive philosophy under Matt Campbell the Toledo Rockets are pretty amorphis. Alot of the determination between run and pass comes from what the defense does, how it aligns against them and what the defense is trying to force their offense to do. They are not a team that uses the running game to set up the passing game, they tend to use what the defense gives them so that they can attack what the defense is trying to limit down the road. The problem is that losing Phillip Ely means that Logan Woodside will likely get the nod. Woodside was fine as a freshman in relief of Terrence Owens, but Ely was the starter for a reason.

Having to turn to Woodside means, in essence, turning to Kareem Hunt. There are worse places to turn, but the Rockets have to avoid being one dimensional on offense. Since Campbell has been the coach they have really thrived on balance between the run and the pass. Hunt can take them a long way behind a Toledo front that I think will be the best the Bearcats will play in 2014, but I am not sure he can carry them to a win. Toledo is going to need their quarterback, be it Woodside or Michael Julian, to make some plays with their arms, and I suspect that the Bearcats approach will ensure that they have them.

In a lot of ways Hank Hughes is an unknown commodity, even though he has been a play caller for UConn in two different spots. His most recent run last year with the Huskies was the definition of a lost season, almost from the start. In going back and watching Hughes I liked his approach with the Huskies.

But what I really liked was the way that he approached teams who spread the field. His nickel formation was not anything revolutionary, just a 3-3-5, usually with an over alignment. But the emphasis was what makes it interesting. The front 6 are responsible for the running game, rushing the passer, and containing scrambles with one linebacker designated to read screen's and intermediate routes before attacking.

The five defensive backs are concerned with the pass, with run support being a distant second concern. There is no set coverage for the secondary. It is usually zone, and usually a cover 2, but they mixed it up a bit with some man sprinkled in here and there.

There are a wealth of blitz packages that come from this look, some even with pressure from the corner or  nickle back (cue Adrian Witty exploding someone). It is an aggressive scheme purpose built to match up with teams like Toledo which spread the field to create space, and take advantage of that space with their athletes.

The key for this game for both teams is simple, control the running game. Toledo will keep it real simple on offense, playing through their offensive line and Kareem Hunt. They will want to attack the Bearcats unproven defensive tackles. The DT's have earning rave reviews this camp, but there is just one prior contributor in the rotation in Cam Beard, and he was completely out of the rotation a year ago. I have high hopes for Brandon Mitchell, but he is still an unknown until he proves otherwise. How that group fares against a veteran offensive line from the Rockets will have big implications for the rest of the year. The Bearcats will want to shut down that interior running game and force Woodside and/or Michael Julian to beat them through the air. That's not a riskless strategy with Alonzo Russell capable of propping up an off performance. But its the approach I expect the Bearcats to take against the Rockets.