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The Cincinnati Bearcats and The First Quarter Catastrophe(s)

The Bearcats are 3-2 and just wrapped up the worst September since, I don't know, 2006 or so. The defense has been stellar, albeit against generally bad offenses, but that is not the problem. The issue lies with the offense and their chronically slow starts.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who has watched the Bearcats in 2013 can't help but notice one thing, this is a team that starts slow. In general that applies more to the offense than the defense, but even then the defense was shredded by Illinois from the get go and never really recovered.

The slow starts for the offense have been much more pronounced and, at this point, is no longer the product of small sample sizes. In four games against FBS competition the Bearcats have not managed a first quarter touchdown. One game is random, two games is coincidence and three is a trend. The stats paint a very clear picture.

Quarter Rush Attempts Yards Per Carry Passing Attempts Passer Rating Run/Pass
1 37 3.14 (107) 39 105.8 (105) 49/51
2 53 5.55 (24) 46 159.5 (34) 54/46
3 57 4.16 (88) 38 139.6 (59) 60/40
4 63 5.59 (15) 38 169.2 (14) 62/38

The numbers in the parenthesis are the national rankings in those categories in that quarter

The first thing that jumps out to me is how much lower the volume of the offense is at the start of the game. UC is only getting off 15 plays per first quarter compared to an average of 20 in the other three. But that lower volume of plays jibes with what we have all watched through five games, an offense that struggles to gain traction in the opening frame. The phrase anemic could be considered appropriate.

Then there is the matter of production. No matter what method of transport you choose, the end result is still the same, futility. The Bearcats are in the bottom 20 in efficiency in the running game (which is what Yards Per Carry measures) and in the passing game. It would be exceedingly difficult to make a case against the Bearcats being among the 20 or so worst first quarter offenses in the land. I certainly can’t.

Logic follows that offenses that are bad are just generically bad, and that the context and the situation in which the offense operates has no meaningful impact on the output. The case of the 2013 Bearcats suggests otherwise. Here we have a terrible offense that operates in a different plane of efficiency for the next three quarters than it does to start the game. But why?

There is no easy answer to that. As tempted as I am to heap this all on the shoulders of Eddie Gran in a simple and naked attempt to grab page views I can' really do it. I don't really see how this is all on Gran. Could he do a better job getting the offense to play better at the start of games, sure. But the Bearcats problem with slow starts predates Eddie Gran.

Do you know when was the last time UC scored two offensive touchdowns in the first quarter? November 10th of last year against Temple*. At this point the Bearcats first quarter issues have been a thing for almost a full calender year. Putting the full blame on Gran for these slow starts is disingenuous.

*UC only managed that twice against FBS foes last year, Temple was one, Pitt was the other.

Starting slow is, apparently, just something the Bearcats do. Of late the general inconsistency has been aided and abetted by turnovers, particularly against USF. The Bearcats first drive of the quarter ended with the blocked kick for a TD, the second in an interception, and the third would have ended in an INT if not for USF being offsides on the play.

I am sure that there are some Bearcats out there who will read this and devour the quarter splits and pin the blame on Gran for not doing his job to get the team ready to play games when they start. But the same one who is calling the plays in the first quarter is calling them the rest of the game when the offense generally plays well.

It’s easier to make the claim that Gran is in over his head, that he is out of his depth with no chance of becoming a capable offensive coordinator. But it is still far too early to make that claim as far as Gran is concerned. Through five games the offense is more or less where you want it to be in statistical terms. I would consider the running game to be above average, or at the very least acceptable. The same can be said of the passing game. The Bearcats third down conversion rate is high, the red zone TD rate is acceptable. UC is generating big plays at an above average rate. The biggest problem for this offense is that the turnover rate (2.2 per game) is too high and the slow starts.

Both of which are really glitchy, random things. Turnovers in particular are random from game to game, and certainly season to season. It has been the Bearcats misfortune that the turnovers have tended to pop up at the least opportune times in 2013. The only thing that is controllable by the coaches is finding a way to get this team to start games faster.

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