After three games, how do you feel about the 2005 Bearcat football squad? I thought they'd be 2-1 at this point with three pivotal games coming up against Miami, Pitt and Connecticut. The Miami and Pitt road games look much more winnable than they did a month ago, but nothing is a certainty. Winning two of their next three games puts the Bearcats in legitimate bowl contention, but are they good enough to win on the road?
Here's what we know. The last time UC beat the Redhawks in Oxford was 1999, and they‘re 0-4 against Pitt although they haven‘t played the Panthers since 1981. Both opponents return a talented, experienced quarterback and 15-16 other starters. However both opponents also seem to be adjusting to new coaching staffs, and the adjustments have been difficult as proven by their losing records.
This young Bearcat squad has had to make some adjustments too, and those adjustments started with the offensive line. UC has seen three different starters at right guard (Jeff Reinstatler, Frank Straub and Jon Tobin), and the overall effectiveness of this group has produced more questions than answers. The O-line has allowed 8 sacks in 3 games despite the mobility of Dustin Grutza and playing the softer part of the schedule. Last year's offensive line allowed only 14 sacks in 12 games with a much less elusive Gino Guidugli at quarterback. In addition, the squad has occasionally struggled to run the football, but is that completely the O-line's fault?
In Saturday's game against Western Carolina, Bradley Glatthaar ran 18 times for 107 yards without a fumble. That's a 5.9 yard per carry average. The other running backs ran 13 times for 51 yards with one turnover, not quite 4 yards per carry. In all fairness to Mike Daniels, he had 20 of those 51 yards in 3 rushing attempts, but he also coughed up the football for the 2nd game in a row. I really hate seeing Doug Jones get rushing attempts. He has 5 carries for a paltry 10 yards this year. He's simply too big to run behind his pads, something Glatthaar does spectacularly. When Bradley gets into the secondary, defensive backs are like puppies caught on the bumper of a car. They're going to get dragged and trampled; it's just a matter of how far. I think Glatthaar makes the offensive line better. He's very patient and gives the play a chance to develop. Plus, he's strong enough to get yards on his own.
The UC passing game is a bit of an enigma. Dustin Grutza has completed 55.7% of his passes, but his longest pass from scrimmage has been a 38 yard screen pass to Greg Moore. His longest pass to a wideout is a 27 yard throw to Derick Ross. This brings up a number of questions. Does this inability to stretch the field hurt UC's running game? Do UC's wideouts lack the speed to get deep? Is the O-line unable to protest Grutza long enough to get off a deep throw? Is Grutza's arm too weak to throw the long ball, or is this offense too conservative? At this point I don't believe anyone knows the answers, but the Bearcats need to make people defend the entire field for their offense to be most effective.
Defensively, the Bearcats have played surprisingly well despite playing a multitude of freshman and newcomers. Corey Smith has led the defense with 24 tackles this year including 2.5 tackles for loss. Haruki Nakamura has also been outstanding recording 22 tackles with 2 interceptions. Mike Mickens has 16 tackles-good enough for 3rd on the team, and Kevin McCullough has 13 tackles in only 2 games. Pat Narduzzi is also building depth with this unit by regularly playing 22-23 guys.
Chet Ervin has responded to the challenge of Kevin Huber and regained his punting job. The fact that Coach Dantonio isn't afraid to fake a punt has helped Ervin since defenses have to defend on punts instead of jail breaking to Ervin. Chet was instrumental in the win over Western Carolina with some crucial, high 40+ yard punts at the end of the game.
These next three games will likely answer most of these questions.
BCI has been told that Bearcat football fans can expect at least 6 homes games in upcoming seasons. There will be some seasons with seven and possibly even eight home games. Look for the Virginia Tech home game in 2007 to be another Thursday night game before Labor Day to attract national television coverage.
To ensure at least 6 home games every year and a balanced schedule in difficulty, UC will be looking to mid-level MAC schools and Division IAA teams to play a game at Nippert or sign a 2 for 1 deal. Cross Ohio University off the list. Coach Frank Solich will not play a 2 for 1 or come to Nippert for 1 game. Youngstown State was mentioned as a possible future opponent.
Bearcat recruit Tyler Epstein of Farmington, Missouri had his season ended this weekend on the second play of the game. This #2 rated linebacker in the St. Louis area sustained a MCL injury to his knee. Tyler had recorded 27 tackles with a touchdown in his first game and a half before the injury.
After having a media person (Dan Hoard) and a Bearcat football great (Karl Woods) as our guest analysts, BCI turns to one of our own for analysis of the Miami/UC game. UC1990A (aka Mike Story) will be our guest analyst.