I've been saying since August that Brian Kelly and his staff are the best thing to happen to Cincinnati football since Sid Gillman, and last night in Syracuse, New York, the Bearcat football program produced some hard evidence that I may just be right. With the 52-31 win over the Orange, Cincinnati has now won nine football games (on the field) for the first time since 1953. Who was coaching that 9-1 club in 1953? The answer is Sid Gillman. Of course, the 1976 Bearcats also had a 9-2 record, but they were awarded the ninth win after the season due to a forfeit from S. W. Louisiana.
The Bearcats came into the game as 20 point favorites, but the game seemed much closer than the 21 difference at the end. Cincinnati led after a Ben Mauk to Marcus Barnett 33 yard touchdown pass with 13:31 still remaining in the first quarter and never relinquished the lead, but the Orange closed the gap to 28-24 after a 78 yard TD strike from Andrew Robinson to Taj Smith only 17 seconds into the second half and again trailed by only four (35-31) after Robinson's second TD pass of the quarter with 8:13 to go in the quarter.
The Cincinnati defense gave up some yardage (413) and big plays, but it also created some big plays of its own including a touchdown. In the third quarter, Corey Smith caused a Robinson fumble when Smith blitzed from his linebacker position. Angelo Craig scooped and scored giving the Bearcats a 42-31 lead with 6:13 to go in the quarter, and the Orange never got any closer.
Scoring the touchdown was only one of a number of big plays by Cincinnati defenders. On the night, the Bearcat defense contributed 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Anthony Hoke and Lamonte Nelms each had three sacks to go with three tackles for loss while Terrell Byrd also created havoc with 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Offensively, Mauk had another monster night. The bionic armed quarterback was 29 of 42 for 431 yards and four touchdowns. He also scored the final TD of the night with his legs on a 13 yard run with 1:02 left in the game.
Mauk had a trio of targets that came up big. Leading the group was Marcus Barnett with 11 catches for 127 yards and three scores while Dominick Goodman was close behind with 8 catches for 98 yards. Connor Barwin grabbed 4 balls for 90 yards.
The most peculiar part of the night was halfway through the final period when the Bearcats, who had struggled to run the football all evening, suddenly found a running game. Cincinnati ran eight straight running plays and picked up three consecutive first downs while milking the clock of over five minutes late in the game. Butler Benton was the top runner for UC with 9 carries for 67 yards. Benton is also the ONLY runner to record a 100 yard rushing game this season when he went for 101 yards on 12 carries against Southeast Missouri State in the first game of the season.
By the middle of the final quarter, the Carrier Dome crowd resembled that of a spring football game as Orange fans had obviously seen enough of the 2007 season and were headed for the exits. As tough as things were for the fans to stomach, the Syracuse athletic director, Daryl Gross, seemed to be enjoying the festivities as he was shown repeatedly on television wolfing down wings and drinking a beverage.
For the Par's Place crew (Perry Brandt, Mike Story and Steve Woods) that allowed me to watch the game with them, the Bearcat Insider "Closest Prediction Award" goes to Mike for his 38-21 forecast.
Now the waiting game begins as the Bearcats anticipate a call from one of the bowl committees with an invitation. I would expect we'll all know where we're "winter vacationing" by Sunday night.
Cincinnati/Syracuse Post Game Report
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