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Grading the Offense: Victory Bell Edition

The big story was a new starter at quarterback but the running game carried the day.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday the Cincinnati Bearcats beat the Miami-Ohio RedHawks, 27-20, claiming their 11th-straight Victory Bell triumph. UC’s offense put together 461 total yards to push the team to the win, marking the second-highest mark of the season, with the 512 yards racked up against Purdue the current high-water mark. The unit also controlled the ball quite a bit, with more than 36 minutes in terms of time possession, while going 8-of-16 on third down conversion attempts and 5-for-6 in the red zone. Its time to take a look at how each position group contributed to that output.

Quarterback

The good: Clearly the biggest thing that happened on Saturday other than UC’s win was the fact that Ross Trail made his first collegiate start. What that means for Hayden Moore, Gunner Kiel and the quarterback position for the Bearcats is up for debate. For now, however, let’s just examine how Trail played as the starter.

Trail set a season-high in passing yards for a UC quarterback in the win, finishing with 276 yards, a single yard more than Moore had the previous week against Houston. He completed a high percentage of his passes (25-of-38, 65.8 percent) and had a nice connection going with Kahlil Lewis, targeting the sophomore wideout 10 times.

In addition to his throwing, Trail showed that he can make a few plays all on his own, ripping off a pair of runs that went for more than 10 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown scamper. If it weren’t for the three sacks he suffered, he would have ended up with roughly 40 yards on the ground.

The bad: Two interceptions and a fumble pretty much dial back every positive thing written above, as Trail was at fault for all of UC’s turnovers, which most certainly helped allow a Miami-Ohio team that is still winless to hang around until the bitter end. Turning the ball over that many times cannot continue, and is a major reason that Trail didn’t just jump in and pull a Tom Brady on Moore.

Final grade: D+

Running backs

The good: Mike Boone and Tion Green are still alive!

Kidding aside, after the Bearcats managed a miserable 30 rushing yards against Houston, they were much more effective against the RedHawks. That’s a good thing because with Trail not exactly lighting it up, offensive coordinator Zac Taylor and head coach Tommy Tuberville dialed up quite a few plays on the ground. In total, the Bearcats ran the ball 49 times, a season-high

Green and Boone really collaborated in this one, with Green finishing with 83 yards and a touchdown (which happened to be the game-winner) on 18 carries while Boone tallied 74 yards and a score on 19 attempts. Both players served as safety valves to Trail as well, combining for eight receptions for 52 yards.

The bad: Although they rushed for 185 yards as a team, the Bearcats only averaged 3.8 yards per carry against Miami, which is allowing 4.56 yards per carry this season. That’s 87th in the nation.

Final grade: B

Wide receivers

The good: Lewis finally had a breakout game. Sure he didn’t score, but he was targeted frequently and finished with team-highs in receptions (six) and receiving yards (88). Devin Gray had another solid effort as well, catching five balls for 67 yards. He is the only player on the team to have at least four receptions in every game this season.

The bad: No other wide receiver had more than 20 yards receiving, although tight end Tyler Cogswell turned his lone catch into 29 yards. Nate Cole, who blew up for 205 yards and four touchdowns in the first three games, managed only 10 yards on two receptions.

However, its difficult to blame the wideouts or grade them too poorly considering they were working with a new quarterback and because the offense favored the running game.

Final grade: C+

Offensive line

The good: The line had a lot of work to do since UC ran the ball so much, and it held up well enough in that regard. The line also was responsible for only three penalties which cost UC 30 yards. As the adage goes, there’s holding on every play, so avoiding penalties all together is a fool’s errand but keeping the mistakes to a minimum let the offense execute the game plan without constantly taking steps backward.

Final grade: C

Overall

A less than aggressive strategy featured a heavy reliance on the run, but didn’t stop UC from gaining yards, converting in key situations and ultimately winning the game. Seeing some of the throws Trail made certainly shows he has potential, but there is still a lot of polish needed. Meanwhile, Green and Boone got a ton of work, perhaps indicating that as the quarterback situation continues to evolve, the duo of running backs may be carrying the brunt of the load. Against the 74th-ranked defense in the country, however, UC once again failed to show the flashes of offensive explosiveness to which we’ve become accustomed. That is troubling.

Final grade: C-/D+