With the exception of Louisville, Rutgers was probably the most talented team Cincinnati has faced all season. They have two legitimately talented starters at running back in Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins, and that talent came to play on Saturday. The two combined to rush for over 230 yards against a Cincinnati defense that has struggled against the run for past few games. Before we get critical, let me say that without the turnovers forced by the defense, the game could have gotten out of hand early and would have been a real shot to the confidence of this Bearcat team. However, the defense allowed far too many chunk plays in the running game, which opened up shorter second and third downs to the Rutgers offense. Allowing six and seven yard runs on first down are absolute killers when you have a defense that needs to get early stops to gain confidence. If you look back on the games UC has played well defensively, they always get off to great starts. Against Miami (OH), they had the early pick six that propelled them to a great performance. Against Pitt, the defensive line was able to get to the quarterback early on and they forced three straight three and outs, once again leading to a comfortable victory. Against Rutgers, the defense did not have those big plays early in the game, and the Scarlet Knights were able to run a conservative game plan, knowing they could run the ball at will. The Bearcats have go to shore up their run defense going forward if they want to improve their defensive performance. They have a veteran-laden secondary that can handle the pressure of UC putting extra defenders in the box to stop the run. Getting some early stops is crucial to the success of rush defense going forward.
Offensive game planning
The bread and butter of the Cincinnati offense this season has been the rushing attack. George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy IV have proven themselves to be the most reliable offensive weapons the Bearcats have to offer. That is why Cincinnati's choice to rely heavily on a struggling passing attack was so baffling to me. RDA IV and Winn had a COMBINED 13 touches against Rutgers, in contrast, Brendon Kay threw the ball 31 times. That is not the ratio you want to see with this offense. Coming off of back to back 25 plus carry games, many people assumed Winn was finally going to settle into the role of the "work-horse" back. That was not the case Saturday. They abandoned the running game early in the second quarter and went into air it out mode far too early. The success of this Bearcats offense hinges on their ability to run the ball, when that's not working, the offense struggles. Against Rutgers on Saturday, the running game wasn't given a chance to get themselves going, which allowed the Rutgers defense to drop extra defenders into coverage and dare Kay to beat them with his arm. Unfortunately for UC, Kay's inexperienced showed a bit, as he threw two costly interceptions that stalled solid offensive drives. Against USF on Friday, the offense has to get back to their roots. Allow George Winn to carry the offensive load early on and then assess the results. Don't bail on the game plan after one sub par quarter. More importantly, the offense HAS GOT to get RDA IV more involved. He is the most explosive player on the team and a big play waiting to happen. Giving him five touches in a game is unacceptable.
This loss does not fall on any one player's shoulders. You win as a team, and you lose as a team. People who want to place all the blame on Kay are reaching. Yes, Kay threw two interceptions, and yes, Kay looked uncomfortable in the pocket at times. I am not denying this. However, this was Kay's second career start. He may be a senior, but playing in an actual game and getting reps in practice are two different things. In watching the game, I noticed a few things about Kay's game. First, Kay tends to get happy feet when he is in straight shotgun mode. When there is no play action or read option to throw off the defense, Kay tends to break down in the pocket and look uncomfortable. When he was successful throwing the ball, it usually started with a play action or on designed rollouts. Giving Kay as much time in the pocket as possible is crucial to his success. If I am OC Mike Bajakian, I would put as many of these plays in the offense as possible against USF. Kay has the tools to be a successful starter; he has the arm strength and accuracy needed for this offense. The key is to tailor your offense to your personal, and in order to see Kay continue to develop, they need to play to his strengths.