With Cincinnati coming to Pratt & Whitney Stadium for a morning kick off this Saturday, Phil Neuffer of Down the Drive was kind enough to answer some questions about the Bearcats. While Cincinnati has pretty much owned UConn in recent times, after reading Phil’s responses you may feel the Huskies have a better shot than you think.
1. Cincinnati was able to stay close with Houston for three quarters before the Cougars blew the doors off in the fourth quarter. What was Cincinnati doing that allowed them to keep up with Houston, and what changed in the fourth quarter?
For a brief moment during that game, I really thought UC’s defense was announcing that not only was it improved, but a legit force. And to be fair, I really don’t blame it entirely for the loss, as odd as that may sound. The Cougars’ defense scored 16 points.You can’t lay that at the feet of a defense that was doing everything it could to contain Greg Ward Jr. As with a lot of teams, mobile quarterbacks just sting UC, like Quinton Flowers of USF did last week. I think UC just ran out of gas a bit in the fourth and Wards talent and the offensive force that was being held at bay finally broke through.
2. Cincinnati currently has the second-worst pass defense in the conference. Are they really that bad, or have the numbers been skewed after playing high-powered aerial attacks in Houston and USF?
The secondary has shown some improvement from last season but in general it is still a group that needs to be much better. Sure, USF and Houston both had success against the secondary, but it is actually Purdue that threw for the most yards against UC (401). Now some of that is game flow, since the Bearcats led for most of that one, but still, it is not as if UC has just been victimized by Ward and Flowers, two of the best QBs in the conference.
3. What's going on with Cincinnati's quarterback situation?
That is a question I would love an answer to as well. Hayden Moore was named the starter to begin the year and was underwhelming in the first three games. He was held out of the last two with what we’ve been told is an ankle injury, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush to bring him back. Redshirt freshman Ross Trail is a much hyped recruit but he has had a rocky start to his collegiate career. Gunner Kiel finally got into a game last week, but he struggled as well (3-of-11, 47 yards).
3a. Kiel used to be one the better quarterbacks in the conference. What the heck happened?
Your guess is as good as mine. When he missed the bowl game last year and stepped away from the team, I thought his career was over but then he came back and Tommy Tuberville was adamant that he would get a fair shake at winning the starting job. He didn’t, obviously, but Moore didn’t do much to make me believe that he was the clear choice.. However, when Moore was sidelined, Tuberville turned to Trail not Kiel, even as he continued to say Kiel was still in the team’s plans. The offense has been pretty bad by UC standards and uncertainty at quarterback has been a big reason. I feel like there’s something we aren’t being told.
4. Cincinnati has had one of the best offenses in the conference, finishing in the top two in total offense for the past four seasons. Why have they taken a step back this season?
The quarterback issue is the real problem. UC has been dedicated the pass for years but with so much uncertainty and inefficiency coming from that position, the Bearcats have changed how they approach games. Instead of being an air-it-out, speed-it-up unit, they’ve been more deliberate and reliant on the run.
Also hurting is the fact that there is a lot of new personnel on the sidelines. Specifically, Zac Taylor replaced Eddie Gran as offensive coordinator after Gran left to run the offense for Kentucky. I don’t want to blame Taylor entirely, but the drop off is too concerning to believe that he hasn’t had something to do with it.
5. What were expectations coming into the season, and is the 0-2 start in conference play concerning?
After anticipating a conference title and a 10-win campaign a year ago, my expectations were much more tepid coming into this season. At 3-2, the Bearcats are right about where I thought they’d be record wise. Houston and USF are both great programs so I wasn’t expecting those to be wins. However, struggling against teams like Tennessee-Martin and Miami-Ohio speaks to a more troubling issue.
6. UConn wins this game if...?
If it can contain Boone and Tion Green and force Trail to throw the ball and then intercept it once or twice. Also if it can get Noel Thomas the ball as often as possible since the defense has had some trouble with slowing the pass.
7. What's your prediction for the game?
This is going to be a much different game than we’ve been used to between these two. Usually UC pushes the pace and forces UConn to try to catch up. This will be a much lower scoring game. Led by linebacker extraordinaire Eric Wilson, UC’s defense has been solid and should be better than it was last week, unless Quinton Flowers and Bryant Shirreffs go through some sort of Freaky Friday like transformation. But, I don’t think that means the Bearcats run away with it either.
Thanks for the insight Phil! Look out for our Q&A with them coming soon.