The Cincinnati Bearcats prevailed against the Miami RedHawks tonight behind four touchdown passes from Gunner Kiel and 99 yards on the ground from Tion Green. It was a game where the Bearcats reworked offensive line, down starters Deyshawn Bond and Cory Keebler struggled until the end to find consistent traction on the ground. The Bearcats biggest problem was, without question, first down.
In 31 first down plays the Bearcats averaged just 4.4 yards per play on first down. Against Toledo the corresponding figure was 6.6 yards. More than that both of Gunner Kiel's interceptions came on first down's, on throws he never should have made. Miami had a total of 3 tackles for loss, and two of them came on first down runs in obvious running personnel. The offense was wildly inconsistent and averaged just 5.4 yards per play.
Meanwhile the much maligned defense played much, much better against Miami. Now the RedHawks offense isn't Toledo's, not as much depth of talent at the skill spots, much worse offensive line, but it was competent. Competence alone is enough to field an offense that is better than some the Bearcats will face this year in conference play. That isn't a dig on the conference, OK it is a dig at the AAC, but its also a recognition that this kind of performance is going to be good enough to win some games.
Miami scored touchdowns on a spectacular throw and catch from Andrew Hendrix to David Frazier, a run where Paul Moses broke two poor tackle attempts against an 8 man front and waltzed into the end zone and a long pass where Hank Hughes gave everyone their wish and blitzed 6 leaving cover zero behind. Howard Wilder got behind, gambled, missed and Frazier again rumbled for a score. Those three plays accounted for 115 yards and 18 of the RedHawks 21 points. Without them the RedHawks averaged just 3.72 yards per play.
I know that you can't take back plays, but this early in the season with sample sizes that are this small what you are looking for is evidence of down to down consistency. In this regard the Bearcats took a giant leap forward on the defensive side of the ball. It took a few drives for the defense to get its footing, but once it was the RedHawks offense rode the struggle bus. Consider this on the RedHawks first four drives, all in the first quarter, they put up 157 yards on 6.3 yards per play scoring two touchdowns. On the 9 drives that followed Miami had 192 total yards on 4.4 yards per play with a touchdown and a field goal.
That's fine, not great, but acceptable. I say it again, that level of defense will win a lot of games for the Bearcats this year. It might not be enough to withstand a bad offensive night against ECU, Ohio State or Miami. It almost wasn't enough to survive this bad night of offensive football, but tonight it was.