The Cincinnati Bearcats are going to a bowl game! Unfortunately, they won’t be playing until Dec. 31. That means we’ve got to do something to pass the time. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Military Bowl between the Bearcats and Virginia Tech Hokies, we’ll be breaking down the matchup position by position. Today we’ll be looking at the offenisve lines for each side.
One of the staff members that Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente brought over from his days coaching at Memphis was Vance Vice, who is the current offensive line coach for the Hokies. Vice’s group has been a largely consistent one this season, with three of the projected starters for the Military Bowl having played in all 12 games this season. The other two (Christian Darrisaw and Yosuah Nijman) played in 11 and 10 games, respectively.
The leader of the unit is Kyle Chung a redshirt senior from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Chung was named an honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference player this season. A versatile lineman who started at right tackle in 2017, Chung is pegged for the left guard post now. Meanwhile, Nijman is the starting right tackle. The 6’7”, 314-pound senior is joined on the right side of the line by redshirt senior guard Braxton Pfaff, while redshirt sophomore Zachariah Hoyt and Darrisaw, a freshman, hold down the center and left tackle spots, respectively.
In terms of protecting the backfield, the Hokies were roughly average in comparison to the rest of the ACC. They tied with Duke for seventh in sacks allowed (27.0) and ranked eighth in tackles for loss allowed (72.0).
The Bearcats’ offensive line was pretty well decorated this season. Senior Dino Boyd was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection and fellow senior Garrett Campbell was on the second team. It’s very possible that Campbell would have received higher honors if not for missing five games with a fractured ankle. He is projected to return to his post at center against the Hokies, but he started at left guard in the regular season finale against East Carolina so he gives UC some versatility. Meanwhile, Boyd was one of the steadiest forcse on the line, starting all 12 games at left tackle. Right guard Morgan James also started all 12 games at one position. At left guard and right tackle, seniors Kyle Trout and Chris Ferguson are the starters.
With well developed chemistry on the line, the Bearcats developed one of the top rushing attacks in their conference. Obviously 1,000-yard rusher Michael Warren was the primary driver, but without strong blocking, the Bearcats wouldn’t have averaged 5.07 yards per carry and ranked fourth in the AAC in total rushing yards (2,857). The line also protected the backfield well, allowing only 25 sacks and 64 tackles for loss. That second number was the second-fewest in the AAC.
However, despite those strong points, the line did fall victim to the penalty bug a bit too often. That was no more apparent than in the loss to UCF. Struggles with penalties isn’t just a fault of the line. The Bearcats have been called for the most penalties per game of any team in the AAC this season (7.8).