The Cincinnati Bearcats (5-2, 1-1 BIG EAST) came into this weekend having never lost to the UCONN Huskies (6-2, 2-1 BIG EAST). So much for that. The Huskies ran all over the Bearcats with the leading rusher in the country, Donald Brown, on their way to a 40-16 victory Saturday afternoon. The Huskies came into the game on a two-game losing streak. The Bearcats were riding a four-game winning streak. Both of those came to a halt and the Huskies kept their home winning streak in tack, now standing at eleven.
It was supposed to be the return of Tony Pike to a team that needed a boost from the position. While redshirt freshman Chazz Anderson did a decent job stepping in for Pike, the Bearcats definitely needed someone a little more understanding of the offense. By halftime, head coach Brian Kelly had seen enough of Pike (10-for-27, 136 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) to determine he either wasn't ready to play or he needed someone with a little more elusiveness to combat the swarming Huskies' defense. Pike took a seat when the second half started and Anderson entered the game. Anderson (9-for-20, 123 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs) didn't manage much better than Pike though, and the main reason for that could have been because the Bearcats ran the ball a total of SEVEN times in the game.
Coach Kelly likes to run the spread offense and has the talent to do so, he cannot forget about the running game. And for some reason that's exactly what happened this week. While the final score makes the game look like a beat-down, that wasn't necessarily the case. Up until late in the game the Bearcats were only down seven and rather than run the ball to keep drives moving, Kelly decided to put the game on the arm of Anderson. He ended up throwing two picks, one of which was taken back for a pick-six. Running the ball a total of seven times in any game spells disaster, especially when you have one QB returning from an injury and another that's still learning how to adjust to the competition at the collegiate level.
Running backs Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel ran the ball for a total of 49 yards. That's an average of seven yards per carry. That's well above where you'd like your running back(s) to average per carry. If there's one thing that can be said negatively about Kelly, its that he falls in love with the passing game a little too much, no matter where the game stands. Had he ran the ball more, the passing game would have opened up more. Both Pike and Anderson dealt with pressure from the Huskies' defense all game long, causing them to either throw bad passes or throw the ball away, or on four occasions, take a sack. With the running game keeping the defense honest and at bay a little more, things could have worked more in the Bearcats favor, especially in the fourth quarter.
On the flip side, the Huskies ran the ball 29 times with their workhorse, Brown. The Bearcats' defense did a good job of keeping Brown in check most of the game, holding him to under 100 yards halfway through the fourth quarter. But the Huskies know where their bread is buttered and never went away from Brown or the running game. Just when it looked like Brown would be held under 100 yards for the first time this season, he busted a 53-yard run. He would end the game with 150 yards on the ground and a couple of scores.
The Huskies were starting their third QB of the season in this game in Cody Endres. He did a decent job, going 18-for-42 for 196 yards. He didn't have to do much though because the Huskies stuck with their running game and Brown, unlike the Bearcats. In the end the Bearcats were beaten at their own game with turning the ball over six times, one on a kickoff return in the third quarter by Mardy Gilyard that completely changed the complexion of the game. At that point the score was 20-16. The Bearcats held the Huskies to a field goal after the fumble, but the momentum was clearly with the home team and stayed that way all the way through the fourth quarter.
Even with this loss, the Bearcats are not out of the hunt for the BIG EAST crown. Their chances took a big hit, especially considering their schedule ahead starting with a game at home against South Florida this coming Thursday night on ESPN. After the USF game, the 'Cats travel to play West Virginia and Louisville and then return home for games against Pittsburgh and Syracuse to wrap up BIG EAST play. Their last game of the season is a non-conference game at Hawaii. If the Bearcats want to have any chance of winning the BIG EAST and getting a BCS bid, they will need to run the ball more. They're supposed to get their season starting QB, Dustin Grutza (broken leg), back for this week's game against USF. In order to protect him and allow him to settle in, Kelly is going to have to control the ball and keep it on the ground more than he did against the Huskies.