Coach Tresey Talks Southern Mississippi

The first day of bowl game preparation for Southern Mississippi was Wednesday. As has become our custom, Bearcat Insider spoke with Cincinnati's defensive coordinator, Joe Tresey, about the challenges of defending the Golden Eagles.

Wednesday was the first day of bowl game preparation for the Bearcats as they look forward to their game against Southern Mississippi on December 22. Bearcat Insider spoke with Cincinnati's defensive coordinator, Joe Tresey, about the challenges the Golden Eagles will present his defense.

The Bowl game will be the fifteenth meeting between the two schools, but the two programs have experienced a reversal of fortune since the Bearcats left Conference USA to join the BIG EAST Conference in 2005. As C-USA rivals, the two schools played seven times with the Golden Eagles being nationally ranking four of those years. Prior to this year, the Bearcats have never faced Southern Mississippi as a ranked team, but that trend ends for this bowl game as UC brings a #20 national ranking into the game.

Coach Tresey is very aware of the history of this rivalry. "No question they have had some wars in this game over the years. I think every Bearcat fan knows that. We've got to be ready to roll. Their tailback (Damion Fletcher) is very good. They have a great tight end (Shawn Nelson) at 6' 5"/240 pounds. Their quarterback (Jeremy Young) is elusive. They have a good wideout (Torris Magee) in #80. They have good players."

Stopping Golden Eagle star running back, Damion Fletcher (1,489 yards rushing), has proven to be very difficult for the opposition this year. Coach Tresey knows the Bearcats will need to contain the USM running back. "He has 1,400 yards rushing. He is the guy that makes them go. He's only 175 pounds but very elusive, and he's very powerful for being that small. He does a great job of playing with vision and keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage."

Tresey's defense has done an outstanding job of stopping the run this season except for the Pittsburgh game where freshman LeSean McCoy (5' 11"/200) gained 140 yards on only 25 carries. Coach Tresey compared Fletcher to McCoy. "I'd say Fletcher is similar to McCoy although McCoy is stouter at 200 to 205 pounds and with more lower body strength. Fletcher is a bit more of a pitter/patter kind of guy."

Quarterback Jeremy Young looks to be only an average passer. In nine games this year, Young completed a mediocre 53% of his throws with only nine touchdown passes to go against five interceptions. As always, Tresey believes the key for the UC defense is to stop the run and force Young to beat them with his arm. "Absolutely. They want to run the football. They've done it all year. They want to establish the run. Any team with a back that gains over 1,400 yards with minimal touchdown passes tells you one thing. They will try to run the ball. They're very big on the left side. They go 352 (pounds) and 310 (pounds) with their left tackle and left guard. They're a physical outfit, and we'll have to bring our ‘A' game."

Cincinnati's administration lobbied for an invitation to other bowl games, and rumors persist that Coach Kelly is a candidate for other head coaching jobs, but Coach Tresey believes this team will not be distracted because the Bearcats still have a great deal to play for. "Coach Kelly told these guys that we have a chance to win ten games this season, which hasn't been done since 1951. We also have a chance to be ranked as high as the top 15 if some other people fall. We've been emphasizing that we need to finish strong."

In addition to looking ahead to Southern Mississippi, we also looked back at the most recent game with Syracuse at the end of November. In that contest, the Bearcats held Syracuse to -15 yards rushing, but the Orange threw for 428 yards, almost 200 yards over its season average. Coach Tresey was happy with the outcome despite the inflated passing numbers. "We had some opportunities. We just didn't go after the ball like we normally have. After we looked at the tape, they made some great plays too. They made some great catches. It was just one of those days, but we hung on and won. It's better to play ugly and win than play great and lose."

Coach Tresey's defense will get its final test of the season in Birmingham and hopes to again create some turnovers. The Bearcats have a legitimate shot at finishing first in the country in three categories-turnover margin, passes intercepted and turnovers gained. They are currently tied for the top spot in pass interceptions with Central Florida as each school has 23. Cincinnati's 39 turnovers trails only USF by one in the turnovers gained category while the Bearcats rank third in turnover margin.

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