Preview: Rutgers-Cincinnati

Rutgers (1-4, 0-1 Big East), smarting after a 24-17 loss at WVU last week, continues the road show with a Big East tilt at Cincinnati (4-1, 0-0) this Saturday. Cincinnati is the team that spoiled Rutgers' perfect season in 2006, & the Bearcats nudged RU out of the national rankings last season. Is it time for RU to get revenge, or can the Bearcats continue their recent ways against the Knights?

TIME/TV

The game is scheduled for noon Eastern Time at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, one of the oldest venues in college football. SNY will carry the game as part of its Big East Network package, and the contest will appear on ESPN GamePlan out of market. Mike Gleason is scheduled to handle play-by-play duties, John Congemi will be the color analyst, and Quint Kessenich is listed as the sideline reporter.


SCOUTING CINCINNATI

UC ran through most of its early non-conference slate pretty easily. The Bearcats beat non-Bowl Championship Series opponents by a combined 135-52, including a 33-10 win at Marshall last week. However, Cincinnati has shown chinks in the armor with a tough 17-15 victory at Akron where the team had to come from behind in the final quarter.

The four Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, Formerly Division I-A) opponents Cincinnati has played have a combined 12-10 record (Oklahoma 5-0, Marshall and Akron 3-3, Miami (Ohio) 1-4). RU's four FBS opponents are a combined 14-7 (Fresno State 3-2, North Carolina 4-1, Navy 4-2, West Virginia 3-2)

OFFENSE

It's a quarterback carousel in Cincinnati this year, as the Bearcats have started three different signal callers and have played four. Try to follow this one: quarterback Ben Mauk lost his appeal for a sixth season, so Dustin Grutza started the first two games but broke his leg in a 52-26 loss to Oklahoma in Week 2. Tony Pike took his place and started the next two games before breaking his arm in a 17-15 victory over Akron. Zach Collaros replaced Pike, but UC started Chazz Anderson instead of Callaros last week against Marshall.

No matter, as UC has gone out and won four out of five to start the season and has averaged 412.6 yards of total offense per game, including 261.2 yards of passing. By comparison, Rutgers averages 331.2 yards of total offense per game.

Anderson took a while to get comfortable in the spread offense during his collegiate debut last week but finished a respectable 16-for-26 for 158 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 33-10 win against Marshall. He led the Bearcats on an 89-yard drive in the third quarter that put Cincinnati ahead 23-10 and effectively broke Marshall's will.

UC boasts a pair of receivers who are on pace to each rack up 1,000 yards this season. Mardy Gilyard leads the team with 465 receiving yards and five touchdowns, followed closely by Dominick Goodman's 440 yards and five TDs. Goodman needs just one more touchdown to tie the school's all-time career record of 21 TD receptions.

The Bearcats are balanced in the running game as well, which averages 151 yards per game. John Goebel and Jacob Ramsey mostly split time in the backfield, and Goebel leads the team with four rushing touchdowns.

However, Cincinnati has a problem holding on to the ball this year. The Bearcats have fumbled the ball 10 times and have lost six of them, including two against Akron Sept. 27.

UC faces a Rutgers defense that is allowing 320.6 yards of total offense per game and 23 points, though the Scarlet Knights have limited the opposition to just 152.2 yards passing per game. Rutgers held West Virginia's running backs in check during a 24-17 loss in Morgantown last week, holding Noel Devine, Zac Cooper and Jock Sanders to 72 yards rushing.

DEFENSE

Cincinnati probably has the best cornerback combination in the Big East, with senior counterparts Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith locking down receivers this year. The pair has combined for 21 career interceptions, including one for Mickens this season. Mickens grabbed a pair of interceptions versus Rutgers in 2006, and Smith picked one off for an 84-yard touchdown return to help the Bearcats beat the Scarlet Knights.

Cincinnati's defense has accounted for eight interceptions this season, including three against Marshall last week. The Bearcats, who run a 4-3 scheme, should be in ball hawk mode as they face a Rutgers team that has thrown nine interceptions this year.

As a team, UC is allowing 241.8 yards per game passing, but the Bearcats are limiting opponents to only 101 yards rushing. Oklahoma and Akron are the only teams to manage at least 100 yards on the Bearcats.

SPECIAL TEAMS

It's not often that a punter receives tons of praise, but All-American punter Kevin Huber is back and kicking as well as ever. He's one of the few game-changing punters in the nation, as Rutgers fans will remember when he booted a punt that pinned RU back at its own 1-yard line in the first quarter versus the Knights last year. This season Huber is second nationally with a 45.6 yards per punt average. Huber has pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line five times this season and has booted five kicks at least 50 yards. An interesting side note: When Huber faced national leader Jacob Richardson of Miami (Ohio), he didn't get a chance to punt as UC rolled up 393 yards of total offense.

UC's special teams success doesn't stop in the punting game, as Gilyard is one of the best in the nation with a 32.1-yard kickoff return average. Gilyard broke a 97-yard return for a TD against Oklahoma on Sept. 6.

HEAD TO HEAD

Rutgers leads the all-time series 7-5-1, including a run of 6-1-1 from 1984-2005. RU won the first-ever Big East meeting between these teams 44-9 in 2005.

Cincinnati has won two straight against Rutgers. The 20th-ranked (AP) Bearcats came into Rutgers Stadium and knocked off No. 21 Rutgers 28-23 behind quarterback Ben Mauk's 257 passing yards and three touchdowns. The year before, No. 7 RU came into Nippert Stadium 9-0 and limped out after a 30-11 thumping.

TRENDS/NOTES

The last time Rutgers started the season 1-4, the Scarlet Knights finished 1-11 during the 2002 season. In the five years since, RU is 36-30. . . . Against West Virginia last week, RU's offense committed zero turnovers for the first time since the Louisville game last Nov. 29 (a stretch of five consecutive games with at least one turnover). . . . The Scarlet Knights rank first in the Big East in pass defense, holding opponents to just 152.2 yards per game. However, the Knights are last in the conference in rushing offense (123.4 ypg), scoring offense (19 ppg) and turnover margin (minus 7). . . . RU is 3-5 on the road versus Big East teams since 2006.

Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly is 15-4 at Cincinnati since taking over the program for the 2006 International Bowl. . . . The Bearcats have forced at least one turnover in 19 consecutive games. . . . Cincinnati has the second-longest consecutive games streak without a punt return for a touchdown. The Bearcats have gone 124 games without taking a punt to the house, second only to Navy's streak of 144 games. . . . Cincinnati's six lost fumbles are tied with Pittsburgh for worst in the Big East. Rutgers leads the conference with just two lost fumbles.

WEATHER

According to the National Weather Service, it should be sunny and warm at Nippert Stadium this week, with highs approaching 80 degrees.


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