On December 24th, many families will gather around their tables for a wonderful holiday meal with their loved ones. Shortly after dinner, they will move to the couch and watch what should be a pretty competitive and entertaining bowl game. With their first outright MWC championship title since 1986, and a nine-game winning streak, it is hard to imagine San Diego State is going to lie down and let Cincinnati have their way. Both teams average over 30 points a game, but they have two opposite offensive focuses. It should be entertaining, but these are some of the key matchups to look out for.
Opposite Sides of the Spectrum
It is quite a compelling matchup for two teams being from opposite sides of the country and opposite offensive focus. To shed a little statistical light on the difference, the Aztecs leading rusher has more yards rushing (1,554 yards) than their quarterback has passing (1,529 yards). In comparison for the Bearcats, their leading rusher has a measly 727 yards while its leading passer has 2,777 yards (while backup Hayden Moore has 1,683 yards as well). That means Cincinnati's backup quarterback has passed for more yards than the Aztecs' starter. From those stats, it is quite obvious that the Aztecs are a team that likes to run the ball down your throat, control the time of possession, and wear out the defense while keeping high-powered offenses off the field.
In contrast, the Bearcats like to put up points as fast and efficiently as possible. They average 559.4 yards per game in total offense in comparison to San Diego State's 378.3 yards. The game can slide in either direction, but will the Bearcats be as unstoppable at distributing the football as we saw against UCF or will they be the stagnant, irrational, and lackadaisical team that we saw against USF?
Donnel Pumphrey vs. Cincinnati's Run "Defense"
Let's lay it out on the table here and admit that this Bearcat front seven is not playing the best football. I have been critical of them all season and this is not going to be a matchup that favors them. The Bearcats give up an average of 190.3 yards a game for a despicable five yard per carry average. They are statistically ranked the 94th overall defense in the country against the run and they are going against a running back that is ranked 9th in the entire country in total yards rushed, with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Pumphrey has 16 touchdowns on the year and is a dominant force that the Aztecs have been more than willing to use. I don't see them stopping him anytime soon and Pumphrey will have a career day against a front seven that is statistically worse than FBS newcomers Charlotte, Rice, and even Texas-San Antonio.
Diversity is Key
Having a running back that is ranked in the top ten is quite a luxury to have paired with with the 15th best rushing attack in the country, yet it isn't as nice when you're also the tenth worst (119th) passing team in the country. The Aztecs can run the ball well and the Bearcats won't exactly present the most formidable rush defense. My biggest question is what will happen when the Bearcats blitz nine players two plays in a row, and the Aztecs are forced to convert a third and long. Will they be able to pass efficiently enough to keep Cincinnati's defense honest or will they demand the defense eliminate pressure on the offense?
Cincinnati has the 4th best passing attack in the entire country with 373.1 yards per game and they also have the 54th best rushing attack with an average of 186.3 yards per game. Pair those together and the Bearcat offensive attack is twice as versatile as the Aztecs. To be effective in both categories is the key to keeping a defense honest and on their toes, which opens up the ability for big plays and efficient drives. I give the Bearcats a significant edge offensively speaking and that offense will be the backbone to ensuring a victory.