Cincinnati ranks last in the nation with 15 sacks allowed through three games. While it's easy to place blame solely on the offensive line, head coach Butch Jones said there's more than one deficiency that has led to the gaudy numbers.
"It's a number of issues," Jones said. "Some of it is inexperience, a lack of continuity. Everything about the throwing game is timing and rhythm. People assume it's the offensive line. But there are a number of things we can do to get better in that area."
Replacing left tackle Jeff Linkenbach and center Chris Jurek has been more difficult than most expected. But Jones also cited running backs missing blocks and Zach Collaros hanging on to the ball a second or two too long as contributing factors.
Whatever the reasons, some semblance of a solution needs to be found before UC faces 8th-ranked Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium. The Sooners have eight sacks this season.
If there's a silver lining it could be the return of Isaiah Pead to full-speed after missing the better part of two games with a knee injury. Pead and running mates Darrin Williams and John Goebel will be looking for seams in an Oklahoma defense that gave up 351 rushing yards last week in a victory over Air Force.
Jones' biggest challenge this week could be getting his players to believe they're better than the 1-2 start and are capable of pulling an upset.
"A lot of people in our program are experiencing some emotions they haven't felt in a long time," Jones said. "We're not going to waver from what we believe in. Our kids have been extremely resilient."
--Junior LB JK Schaffer leads the Big East Conference with 10.7 tackles per game.
--After taking over for Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, Butch Jones' team started 1-3 before finishing 7-2 and winning the Mid-American Conference championship.
SERIES HISTORY: Oklahoma leads the series 1-0 (the Sooners won the first meeting 52-26 in Norman on Sept. 6, 2008).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Bearcats' spread offense, one of the nation's most dynamic the past three seasons, hasn't quite materialized largely due to an inability to protect Zach Collaros and give him ample time to utilize his multitude of weapons. Collaros has been sacked 15 times in three games to lead the nation. UC ranks 96th nationally in rushing and 84th in total offense. With Isaiah Pead fully recovered from a knee injury, look for the Bearcats to attempt to exploit apparent deficiencies in Oklahoma's run defense.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Cincinnati has some standouts on defense, but not much depth. Junior linebacker JK Schaffer leads the Big East Conference with 10.7 tackles per game. The Bearcats are 31st against the rush but rank 107th against the pass. Cincinnati's new 4-3 alignment which was installed this season in order to create more pressure on opposing QBs has produced just two sacks per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a very storied program. The makings of a great program is depth and special teams. They're as good a team as I've seen on film. They're deserving of a Top 10 ranking." -- Head coach Butch Jones on this week's opponent Oklahoma.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oklahoma at Cincinnati, Sept. 25 -- The Sooners roll into Paul Brown Stadium undefeated and ranked No. 8.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Oklahoma gave up 351 rushing yards last week against Air Force's wishbone attack. The Bearcats aren't known for their running game, but with 15 sacks allowed in three games they might want to tweak the spread offense this week and test the Sooners rush defense. Keeping the pressure off Zach Collaros could determine UC's chances for an upset. Paul Brown Stadium is a neutral site, but it's just a few miles from UC's campus and a long way from Norman, OK.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Zach Collaros -- Collaros has been sacked 15 times. The pressure must be kept off him for the Bearcats spread offense to be effective. Collaros hasn't displayed his big-play running ability yet this season.
RB Isaiah Pead -- Head coach Butch Jones declared Pead fully recovered from his bothersome knee which caused him to miss one game. Pead played sparingly last week at NC State but will need to be more of a factor this week.
--Tight end Ben Guidugli, a key component in the Bearcats' spread offense, suffered an ankle injury last week and is listed day-to-day. He is expected to return for this week's game against Oklahoma.
--Reserve defensive lineman Rob Trigg will not play this week due to a knee injury.
--Punter Patrick O'Donnell, who's had the unenviable task of replacing two-time All-American Kevin Huber, is improving. O'Donnell had a career-long 58-yard punt Thursday night, his longest since a 51-yarder in the season opener at Fresno State.
--Sophomore RB Darrin Williams, who started the past two games in place of the injured Isaiah Pead, will move back to the No. 2 spot this week with Pead expected to return.