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The Cincinnati Bearcats Embrace Tempo As A Weapon

When it comes to football I guess I am a little bit like Ricky Bobby, I just want to go fast. There are too many advantages to running an offense with pace for a smart team not to do it. Some forgo it, and proudly, but unless you have an inexhaustible supply of blue chip linemen and tailbacks it is hard to succeed long term doing that.

Andy Lyons

The Cincinnati Bearcats are emphatically not in that category. Just take a look at the roster that the Bearcats have compiled in this the second season of the Tommy Tuberville/Eddie Gran era. What the coaches have is an offensive line that is good but not great, running backs that are solid, an unbelievable talent at quarterback*, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of quality wide receivers.

* If you were to do a tiered ranking of the most talented Bearcat quarterbacks in school history it would just be Greg Cook and Gunner in Tier 1.

The philosophical underpinnings of why tempo benefits the offense have already been discussed, ad nauseum. It prevents the defense from substituting, it forces them to keep their looks as simple as possible which makes the reads easier for the quarterback. Playing faster robs the defense of the one advantage that they have over the offense, complexity. But you knew all that already.

Eddie Gran has figured that out too. Here is the Bearcats pace stats for every game of the Gran era.

Plays TOP Plays Per Minute
Purdue 72 33:48 2.13
Illinois 72 23:32 3.06
Northwestern St. 67 31:49 2.11
Miami 89 37:04 2.40
South Florida 69 29:26 2.34
Temple 79 37:00 2.14
UConn 66 28:23 2.33
Memphis 78 33:38 2.32
SMU 77 32:48 2.35
Rutgers 71 28:08 5.52
Houston 91 36:32 2.50
Louisville 80 27:58 2.86
North Carolina 72 26:36 2.70
Toledo 72 24:48 2.90

Last week in this space I facetiously asked if this would be the year that the Bearcats finally pushed the go fast button. The truth is that the Bearcats started to drift towards playing faster as the year went on. At the start of the year the Jimbo Fisher influence on Gran was apparent. The Bearcats tried to do a lot of different things with their personnel groupings and formations. Ostensibly they were a no huddle team, but much as the Bearcats were in the Butch Jones era the emphasis was not on playing fast, but getting the "right play" called for the situation.

One thing changed that, the injury to Munchie Legaux. The pace of play had no real discernable impact on his performance under Butch Jones. It's hard to tell if that also would have been the case under Gran, but we only got two games and an inconclusive sample.

When Brendon Kay took the reins it became pretty obvious that for him to be comfortable he needed to have the defense spread and to be in the shotgun. That was where he was comfortable, and as Kay got more comfortable in the scheme the pace became faster, in part because Gran and his staff delegated more of the pre snap responsibilities to Kay. It was something of a happy accident that the changes benefited the Bearcats skill position guys.

Happy accident or not, Eddie Gran and his staff were on to something. Its amazing to consider this, but the 2013 Bearcats didn't so much break the school record for total offense as shatter it. They did that without really having a concrete idea of what fitted the personnel. Nor did the Bearcats enjoy a healthy line, or quarterback. The sort of stumbled into one of the best offenses in the history of UC football*. Sometime in January the Bearcats offensive staff met to begin their breakdown of the 2013 season. They poured over every second of film from the 2013 season, evaluating strengths and weaknesses looking for a plan for the 2014 season. One assumes that it did not take long for Gran and his staff decided that playing at a higher tempo was the way to go.

* Sorry guys, the best will be 2009 until proven otherwise

It is not hard to see why that is appealing to an offensive coordinator, this collection of wide receivers allied with Gunner Kiel's arm strength really is a perfect combination. Because there is a little bit of everything with these wideouts. You have the prototypical depth threats in MeKale McKay and Alex Chisum. The burners in Johnny Holton and Chris Moore. The "possession" guys like Nate Cole, and Max Morrison. Shaq Washington and Ralph David Abernathy have the intermediate routes covered. We haven't even seen Casey Gladney yet, but the coaches rave about him. Its not just that the Bearcats have guys who can fit into every part of this offense, its that the Bearcats have multiple guys who can do that. That is why pushing the tempo faster and faster makes so much sense for this particular offense, there is almost no drop off between the starters and the backups. The Bearcats were fast on friday night, and they aren't slowing down anytime soon.