All the optimism that came out of Cincinnati’s offensive awakening against the Navy Midshipmen was crushed last night, as the Bearcats were brutalized by the Marshall Thundering Herd on their home field. It was a difficult game to watch from a UC perspective, as all the strides taken by the team against Navy just disappeared. Here’s everything we learned (or were taught again) from this week’s loss.
This team struggles to start well
For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding gameday at Nippert Stadium, the Bearcats just don’t seem to carry that momentum onto the field. In every game this season, they have started off pretty poorly. Even in the win over Miami (Ohio) it took a valiant effort in the second half to overcome an early deficit. Against Marshall, the team put forth one of its worst starts of the season. At the end of the opening half, the Bearcats trailed 24-0. Not only that, they had accumulated a total of 89 offensive yards, while allowing 229. This team just isn’t built to overcome such large deficits so getting off to a better start will be important from now on. It’s just unclear whether or not that’s something that can be fixed.
The offense didn’t turn a corner against Navy
After putting up more than 400 yards of total offense against Navy, the Bearcats seemed to have found their rhythm offensively. Unless Marshall is secretly a top 10 defense, that doesn’t seem to be the case after all. No matter what they tried to do, the Bearcats just couldn’t move the ball, except when the game was already out of hand. As mentioned above, they barely got any yards in the first half, with a 42-yard pass from Hayden Moore to Devin Gray accounting for nearly half of the offensive output in the first 30 minutes. More yards came flowing in the second half, but its hard to praise the team for that and not just chalk it up to apathetic play by the Marshall defense.
Josh Pasley is not the answer at kicker
Although a field goal at the end of the first half wouldn’t have solved all of UC’s problems, it certainly would have given at least a semblance of momentum. Unfortunately, Pasley missed a 26-yard field goal in the final minute of the half. Pasley has missed as many field goals as he’s made this season (3-of-6) and while you can forgive the one from beyond 50 yards, a chip shot from 26 yards isn’t something you can afford to lose, especially when the offense is struggling to score. Another real issue is there isn’t a great alternative option right now as even Andrew Gantz, who is still dealing with a groin injury, missed a 26-yard attempt in the first game.
Third down is a problem
No, not like Gary Clark. That’s a good kind of problem for Cincinnati. The Bearcats have just been brutal on third down this season and that was especially true against the Herd. They converted only 4-of-14 chances into first downs, which accounted for their lowly 20:49 time of possession. On the season they are 10th in the American Athletic Conference in third down conversion percentage (34.2 percent), so this isn’t something that only happened against Marshall.
Perry Young is still very good, but the defense might not be
Hanging their hat on D was the signature of the Bearcats’ first three games. Well not anymore. After allowing 80 points combined over the last two weeks, cracks are beginning to show. Now, it needs to be said that the UC offense has done zero favors for the D, including yesterday when it fumbled the ball three times, but UC’s defense was still lit up by Marshall, this time through the air. Chase Litton threw four touchdown passes, with three going to his tight end, a position that UC seemed ill equipped to stop.
On the bright side, Young looked good in a full game of action. He led the team with 13 tackles, including one of its nine tackles for loss, and he also recovered a fumble. It was a nice individual effort in a game devoid of many of them.