At the beginning of the season, if you had told loyal Bearcat fans that in November UC would be starting as many as 5 true freshmen on defense, most would have said that the season had to be one written off. But, in fact, in late November with that many freshmen starting on defense UC still has a shot at a bowl game by winning its remaining 2 games. Yes, it is going to be a difficult task, beating South Florida and Rutgers on the road, but it is a doable task.
Hey even Tennessee has to win its last two games to become bowl eligible.
What does UC need to do this week to take step one in the process; defeating South Florida in Tampa?
Before anyone criticizes my 'keys to the game', I want everyone to know that I am not a football coach (I only play one in Section 205 of Nippert for all home games). But that is what makes doing this so fun and makes my mother so proud).
I can voice my opinion here and take zero responsibility for the outcome. Unless of course, UC wins, in which case, I will assume it is because Coach Dantonio and his staff read this and took my advice.
Let's start with UC. On both sides of the ball UC is learning and growing. Playing as many true and redshirt freshmen and sophomores as UC does, means each game is a learning experience. I can honestly say that many of these players have grown, and are playing good football.....for the stages they are in their careers.
It is almost unfair that they have to play against their opponents' juniors and seniors. With a young team such as UC, the margin for error becomes smaller. And bouncing back from adversity becomes harder without experience to draw from. This game will be no different. UC is not yet a seasoned enough team to turn the ball over and recover from it. Zero turnovers on the road against Syracuse resulted in a tough road win. To win in Tampa, UC has to repeat that feat. UC has to make the most of every scoring opportunity.
As the offense continues to struggle under a revamped offensive line and a quarterback playing his first year, once in the red zone, UC has to come away with points. No bad snaps or missed blocking assignments on FG attempts, no ill advised throws or turnovers, and execution in all phases of the game on first down once there.
The South Florida defense gives up yards on the ground. If UC can run the ball, even if only in 4 yard chunks, it can control the tempo of the game, and take pressure off UC's young quarterback.
Although, the South Florida defense can also be susceptible to the pass, this year, running is UC's game. So, if UC can grind it out on the ground, UC has a chance to take advantage of the South Florida defense with 'surprise' passes. If UC can't run the ball, it will be a tough day in Tampa.
Controlling the tempo of the game will be important for a couple of reasons. By doing so UC can negate some advantages in favor of South Florida. One is the obvious crowd advantage. Grinding out first downs on the ground lulls a home crowd to sleep. Secondly, South Florida has tremendous team speed. A controlled running game doesn't allow the Bulls to utilize as much of its team speed on defense, and keeps the offensive team speed on the sidelines, where all UC fans think it should stay. I know fans hate that kind of an offense, but for now, with a young team it cuts down on opportunities for big mistakes.
On offense, the Bulls have a very dangerous runner in Andre Hall. So far no one has really been able to stop him. Not only does Hall run between the tackles (and around and through them and everybody else), but he is adept at catching passes out of the backfield. He has power and speed. There are a few ways, as I see it, to stop him. One, is to keep him on the sideline (see above).
Two, is to load up the box and hope the Bulls floundering passing game doesn't hurt you.
And, lastly, is to check his transcript to see if he really should have graduated before kickoff. Stopping Hall is a major key to stopping the Bulls.
Pat Julmiste, South Florida's hot and cold QB presents another problem for UC defenders. When he is hot, he is hitting receivers between the numbers while on the run and scrambling for big gains, and when he is cold...well, he is very cold. Given enough time in a game, fans are likely to see both sides of Jumiste. By stopping Hall UC gets to see more of Julmiste's talents, and UC fans can only hope to make him pay for his 'cold' streaks, with, say, a few interceptions and fumbles.
If UC can run the ball, then special teams can win this one for them. UC's special teams don't have to do anything spectacular to be very special this weekend. Playing as mistake free as possible on special teams, hopefully, will put South Florida in 'long field' situations, meaning they will have to go the length of the field to score. This will not be an easy task with the team speed South Florida has in its return game. And if UC can get the ball on punt and kickoff returns out from the shadow of their own goalposts, and give the offense some operating room, it certainly enhances UC's chances to put points on the board.
With a young team UC has to play the game as simply as possible under the circumstances, and execute, execute and execute. Doing that UC can win this game. With another year of seasoning under their belts, and the addition of more recruits such as themselves, UC's football future looks very bright.