Wed 11/9/05 7:30
BCS Rank: 15
UConn 45-13 W
Rtn Lettermen: 41
Rtn Starters: 17
BCS Rank: 71
Syr 22-16 L
Rtn Lettermen: 36
Rtn Starters: 8
Last Meeting: 2003
So far the 2005 Bearcats have played like a young team, losing games they were expected to win while winning games most thought they would lose. After seven games, UC holds a 3-4 record, and it is also 1-4 in conference play.
After downing Eastern Michigan (28-26) and Western Carolina (7- 3), with a hard-fought loss to Penn State (42-24) in between, the Bearcats were routed by both Miami University (44-16) and Pitt (38-20) on the road, encouraging most followers to leave the ‘Cats for dead.
A surprise homecoming win over Connecticut (28-17), however, pulled Cincinnati back to .500 and has some fans believing in the future of this young team. Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati's 35,000-seat home has been very kind to the Bearcats this year, as they held a 3-0 record, and a sixgame home winning streak dating back to 2004, before Louisville came into the Queen City this past Saturday and laid a 46-22 beating on the ‘Cats.
Finding a successor to quarterback Gino Guidugli was at the top of offensive coordinator Don Treadwell's to-do list this offseason, but it appears as though the ‘Cats may have found an answer — if not for this season, certainly for the next.
Dustin Grutza became the first freshman to start a UC season opener since World War II when he led the team onto the field against Eastern Michigan, and he responded by earning Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors with two passing touchdowns and another on the ground.
On the year, the redshirt freshman has completed 94-of-176 passes for 1,053 yards, but he does have one statistic that would tip an unknowing observer off to his youth. His six touchdowns are a decent number but not compared to the eight interceptions he has thrown in his six starts. The young signal-caller can be forced into mistakes, and that is what West Virginia will try to do.
UC head coach Mark Dantonio had trouble finding familiar faces at any spot on the field, but the wide receiver spot may have been the most difficult. Earnest Jackson, who caught 24 balls for 314 yards as a freshman last season, was the leading returnee, and he was the only pass-catcher with any real experience.
Fortunately for the Bearcats, a number of receivers have stepped up, including Derick Ross, a senior who was finally given a chance to become a regular fixture in the lineup this season.
Ross leads the team with 19 receptions, and he is second in yardage with 202, but he has found the end zone only once.
Tight end Brent Celek has been a regular part of the UC passing game, hauling in 17 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown, all of this coming after he set a Cincinnati record for touchdown catches by a tight end with eight in 2004.
Sophomore receiver Antwuan Giddens has also stepped up, catching 16 balls for 102 yards on the year, and Jackson is fourth on the team with 11 grabs for 172 yards and two scores.
In the backfield, Cincinnati relies mostly on sophomore tailback Bradley Glatthaar, who is developing into one of the Big East's better running backs. The hometown product has carried the ball 83 times in six games, and he has converted those touches into 407 yards and seven touchdowns. Glatthaar scored a touchdown in each of Cincinnati's first six games this season, and he has found paydirt in 10 of the Bearcats' last 12 games, dating back to last season.
Leading the way for Glatthaar is fullback Doug Jones, a Conference USA all-freshman team selection a year ago. Jones started his career as a tight end, but he quickly adjusted to the fullback spot, performing well as both a blocking back and with the ball in his hands. This year the Erlanger, Ky., native has carried the ball just six times for 12 yards, but he did miss two starts with injuries.
Butler Benton is a backup tailback who also gets his share of carries. He has run the ball 41 times for 181 yards and a touchdown this season.
Offensive line coach Dan Roushar is another member of the Bearcat staff fighting a battle with inexperience. Only left tackle Steve Eastlake started on last season's line — the last three years in fact.The team captain has started in 30 straight games, and he has only improved with experience. Eastlake is trying to lead a very green group, however. Left guard Ryan Brown is a junior in his first season as a starter, but the former all-state player did see action at both guard positions last season. Redshirt freshman Trevor Canfield has moved into the starting role at right guard, after junior Jeff Reinstatler started three of the first six contests. That position has clearly been the one the UC coaches are not satisfied with, however, as four different Bearcats have started in that spot this year.
Sophomore Digger Bujnoch has moved over from tight end to become Cincinnati's startingright tackle. Bujnoch, a member of the Cincinnati Elder High School state championship team in 2002, has been a pleasant surprise, helping the unit to gel.
Senior center Matt Webster is the final piece of the puzzle for Coach Roushar. He saw action as a backup in each of the last four seasons, but he is starting for the first time in his career.
While some talented skill players have stepped up to make some plays, the line is a big reason why Cincinnati has not been able to make a big splash in its first year as a Big East member. The Bearcats are averaging just 151 yards a game on the ground, and UC quarterbacks have been sacked 17 times in six games. The line has come together a little more in each game, but Coach Dantonio — 10-8 in two years at UC — has little time to wait.
If any area of the Cincinnati defense can be called a strength, it would have to be the secondary. The Bearcats have allowed 224 yards per game through the air, but they also boast six interceptions and 28 pass breakups on the year. Freshman cornerback Mike Mickens is the leader of the secondary, and he shares the NCAA lead with Syracuse's Anthony Smith in passes broken up (1.83 per game). Mickens also has an interception and 32 tackles on the year.
Junior Antoine Horton, who made seven starts in 2004, is the other corner and the most experienced member of the secondary. The Rochester, Pa., native's numbers are not quite as impressive (two passes broken up and 23 tackles), but he has been a solid presence in the UC defensive backfield and a vocal leader.
Strong safety Dominic Ross, the brother of Cincinnati receiver Derick Ross, has started five of the first six games at strong safety. After starting the first two games of the season, Ross was replaced by Cedric Tolbert for the Western Carolina game. Instead of sitting around pouting, though, Ross came off the bench to record two crucial interceptions, and he has been back in the starting lineup since. He also boasts two pass breakups and 29 tackles on his statistics.
The final member of the UC secondary is sophomore free safety Haruki Nakamura, the team's second-leading tackler. Along with his 43 stops on the year, Nakamura also has two interceptions, four pass breakups, a forced fumble and a recovery to his credit, making his brother Yoshi, an Olympic wrestler, very proud. UC's linebacking unit is extremely inexperienced. Not only did the Bearcats lose all three starters from last year's team, they also lost their backups.
True freshman Corey Smith is the youngest of the young, starting for the first time at outside linebacker. Smith, though, has played like a veteran, leading the team with 44 tackles to go along with a sack and a pass breakup. Sophomore Anthony Williams is the other outside linebacker, after moving from the defensive backfield to linebacker this past spring. The West Point, Ga., product is third on the team with 38 tackles, and 23 of those stops have come in the last two games. He has also recorded a sack, broken up three passes, caused a fumble and recovered a loose ball in his six starts.
In the middle of those talented youngsters is junior Kevin McCullough, whose older brother Brian played fullback at Miami (Ohio).McCullough joined the UC team as a junior college transfer, and he has been a welcome addition. Seven of his 31 tackles have come in opponents' backfields, and he has also recovered two fumbles this season.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's biggest offseason task may have been finding a way to replace two allconference defensive ends.
Senior Adam Roberts, the lone returning starter on Cincinnati's front seven, has moved from tackle to end to help fill one of the gaps, and he has put up solid performances.
Roberts leads the team with four sacks and four quarterback hurries, and he also has been credited with 23 tackles.
The other three starters up front, however, are all true freshmen, and that may be a big reason why opponents have scored nine rushing touchdowns this season.
Trever Anderson, a first-team all-sate pick at Crockett Tech in Detroit, starts at the other defensive end position with freshmen Thomas Claggett and Terrill Byrd starting at the tackle slots. Both were high school standouts last season, but the adjustment to the college game has taken some time. Cincinnati's kicking game has been questionable at best. Junior placekicker Kevin Lovell has hit on just 2-of-6 field goals this year, but two of those misses have come from longer than 50 yards.
Senior Chet Ervin is in his fourth season as a punter, and he is averaging 38.6 yards per boot, and he has also put six punts inside the 20. WVU fans might remember Ervin as a placekicker, as he hit three field goals to down the Mountaineers in 2003.
That 15-13 win in Morgantown is the only time the Bearcats have beaten the Mountaineers in 13 games. West Virginia holds an 11- 1-1 advantage in the series which began in 1921 with a 50-0 WVU victory.
The series between West Virginia and Cincinnati was a somewhat regular occurrence in the 1980s, with the two teams meeting five times from 1980 to 1990. The teams, however, did not play again until 2002, a 35-32 WVU win at Nippert Stadium.