The Cincinnati Bearcats
(7-2, 3-1) are on the road again this week as they travel to take on the Louisville Cardinals
(5-4, 1-3) in the battle for the Keg of Nails. The Bearcats are coming off a big overtime win, arguably the biggest in school history, over West Virginia, 26-23. The win put the Bearcats in the Top 25 for the first time this season, debuting at No. 22. Unlike the Bearcats, the Cardinals are coming into this game after having just got the smack laid down on them by Pittsburgh, 41-7.
When these two teams hooked up last season, UC lost a heartbreaker to UL 28-24 in Nippert Stadium. The Cardinals have won the last five meetings and nine of the last ten. The Bearcats do, however, lead the series between the two teams 25-21-1. The rivalry is one of the best in the country but doesn't get the attention it deserves outside of Ohio and Kentucky. The battle for the Keg of Nails was started by a fraternity on the campuses of UC and UL. The meaning behind it is to state that the winning players are "tough as nails."
Louisville comes into the game Friday night on a two game losing streak. They were thoroughly dominated by Pittsburgh last week and will surely be looking to take it out on the 'Cats. The team is lead by their senior quarterback, Hunter Cantwell. His numbers aren't flashy by any means with just 1,743 yards passing and 13 TDs to go along with 11 INTs, but he is the leader of the team.
The surprise on the team is their freshman running back Victor Anderson who leads the team with 913 yards on the ground. He has seven scores and is averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Anderson hasn't turned the ball over yet this season, which as a freshman, speaks a lot to his ability to protect the ball. The Bearcats did a great job of shutting down the great rushing attack of West Virginia with Pat White and Noel Divine not breaking 100 yards combined last week. If they shut down Anderson and force the Cantwell to throw, there's a good chance they'll force him to make mistakes and creat turnovers.
Unlike Louisville, Cincinnati is riding a two game win streak, both wins coming against top 25 teams (South Florida and West Virginia). A big reason why they were able to knock off USF and WVU is due to the quarterback play of Tony Pike. After missing a couple games earlier in the season due to breaking his non-throwing arm in the game against Akron, he has bounced back in his last two games to lead the strong passing attack for the Bearcats.
Pike has been holding down the fort until season starter Dustin Grutza can come back from his broken leg, but at this point, there's no need to rush him back with Pike playing as well as he has been. He's thrown 10 TDs to only three INTs this season. He gets a lot of help from his two stud wide receivers in Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman, both of which have almost 700 yards receiving. Gilyard is Pike's main target as they have hooked up on all seven of Mardy's touchdown receptions this season.
The keys to victory for the Bearcats rest on their defense and if they can stop Anderson and force Cantwell into throwing the ball. The defense has recorded 16 sacks in their last six games after getting just three in their first three games. The Cardinals' offensive line will have difficult task at hand Friday night trying to keep defensive end Conner Barwin out of the backfield. He leads the BIG EAST in sacks with seven and is ranked 19th nationally.
This is yet another big game for the Bearcats as they are in a tough stretch of their conference schedule having battled UCONN, USF and WVU, and now they take on their biggest rival in Louisville. They can control their own destiny in the conference by coming away with a win this week as they play the only team standing in their way of a conference championship next week in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are looking to just become bowl eligible at this point. A win over the Bearcats would give them that.
The game starts at 8:00PM on ESPN2.