Ohio State Football: Scouting Cincinnati

The Bearcats bring a big challenge to Ohio Stadium on Saturday night. We examine where Cincinnati is strong and where Ohio State might attack in a game that could see the scoreboard lit up.

If the Bearcats win, it will be in a shootout. If the Bearcats are competitive, it will be in a shootout. Their weapons on offense are legit, starting with the quarterback but certainly including a ton of really talented receivers. The offensive line looks okay -- not great, not bad but serviceable, and the running backs can do a few things, but they make their bones through the air.

Defensively it's mostly blah for Cincinnati. They aren't bad, but there's not a lot that you really are impressed with. They do have some good athletes, but they had some problems with communication as they adjust to a new defensive scheme that head coach Tommy Tuberville described as being similar to what Ohio State is trying to do.

Of course the biggest name within the program right now is Gunner Kiel, who left no doubts in his debut against Toledo two weeks ago why he was among the most-highly recruited quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school. Then a week later he reminded everyone he is a sophomore with two career college games under his belt.

The talent is there with Kiel, no question. He has a fantastic arm and can make all the throws, including the deep out and all that. He's also a good athlete who runs well and is not afraid to lower his shoulder. They will call running plays for him, including QB power, and he can be dangerous as a scrambler. However, he threw two interceptions against Miami and there could have been at least a couple more. He struggled with telegraphing throws, and he had a slant pass that was behind his receiver in the fourth quarter that was jumped on and nearly picked off. He also had an interception on an under-thrown deep ball off play action in the first quarter after hitting the same play for a touchdown on the previous drive.

Kiel reminds me a lot of Matthew Stafford, and he has some of that gunslinger in him. He's not afraid to let it go, and he certainly trusts his arm and will try to fit the ball into tight spots. How much of his inconsistency he cleans up in game three remains to be seen. The ceiling is obviously very high.

He also had a few drops that cost him touchdowns against Miami, although overall the receiving corps is very impressive. It is deep and versatile with 6-6, 195-pound junior MeKale McKay leading the way so far. Although he was guilty of a couple of those drops, he is a matchup nightmare and will snatch the ball with both hands. He is one of seven receivers on the UC depth chart (they listed four starting WRs) who are 6-1 or more, and Alex Chisum, Johnny Holton, Max Morrison and Nate Cole have all caught TD passes through the first two games.

In the slot they have a pair of dangerous little guys in Shaq Washington and Ralph David Abernathy IV. Washington is a tough cover in the slot, as he showed on a key third down late when they got him matched up with the SAM linebacker and won with a little out route for an important conversion.

Hosey Williams starts at running back and showed some nice feet and cutting ability at 5-9 and 220 pounds, but Tion Green was the guy they went to late when they needed to grind out yards. He's a big guy (6-0, 220) and runs hard behind his pads. Must bring the whole body when tackling him, but he's got a little burst.

The offensive line didn't really look like an asset or a problem against the RedHawks. Left tackle Eric Lefeld got toasted by an outside rusher for a sack early in the game, but he's regarded as one of the better offensive linemen in the AAC.

They run zone and power plays with play action off that and of course plenty of screens and other short passes. They will stress a defense from sideline to sideline using both 11 personnel with a tight end/H-back or four wide receivers.

Defensively, UC runs a 4-3 and a combo of coverages. They played a lot of off man early and tightened up late against Miami with some miscommunications in the secondary causing problems. Tuberville said there could be some personnel changes this week, and it's not hard to guess this is where you might see that.

They didn't blitz much but had some success when they did, whether that was getting a free rusher from the outside or freeing a lineman by bringing a linebacker up the middle. I think they would prefer to get the job done with four guys, and Silverberry Mouhon at end and Camaron Beard at tackle flashed the most as far as being able to cause some problems.

With good size at defensive tackle and a thumper middle linebacker in Jeff Luc (a bigger Curtis Grant), I think they will challenge Ohio State to run laterally. Nick Temple, the WLB, seems like a pretty good all-around player who runs well and tackles well. Against Toledo they were gashed up the middle badly, and Miami had some success as well thanks in part to some missed tackles. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see them scheme against this against Ohio State by pinching the tackles.

Other notes and observations:

  • In both games, Kiel showed he is not afraid to attack the seams and can put some mustard on the ball, so the safeties are going to be tested on their ability to match up one on one. He also found a well-covered Moore in the end zone on a back-shoulder throw that was very impressive. If the safeties and cornerbacks are on the same page or not with the quarters coverage -- which calls for them to read routes and pass guys off at times -- we will find out Saturday night.

  • The receivers block well, aiding their outside running game and screens.
  • Miami hit a TD on a play similar to one Ohio State unveiled in the Orange Bowl that UC handled poorly. They faked a jet sweep to a receiver in motion then went deep to the outside receiver matched up against the safety in the seam as the tight end (who lined up in the slot) ran a corner route. Also of note: No one picked up the motion man in the flat after he carried out his fake, though they picked this up later when Miami ran the same play.
  • The standout in the secondary against Miami was Zach Edwards, a sophomore safety who brings the wood and will help out against the run, although he was beaten on the TD I just described.
  • Miami quarterback Andrew Hendrix, not noted for his running ability, hurt them more than once with big scrambles when there was no one to account for him.
  • The UC defense gave up some plays, but it made an important stop in the fourth quarter protecting a seven-point lead. They stuffed a run then had a coverage sack on second down and a third-down sack by a blitzing linebacker who wasn't accounted for.

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