Friday night the USF Bulls will enter Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Bengals) to face the Cincinnati Bearcats. Head coach Tommy Tuberville runs a pass-heavy operation at Cincinnati. He has coached at Texas Tech so he is familiar with the Air Raid, but nowadays he does more of a spread offense to move the ball. There are a lot of zone reads and play action, so watching Cincinnati is similar to watching a mediocre Oregon or Ohio State. Their offense is definitely clicking, which is more than you can say for USF.
The Bulls are a 10.5 point underdog, but don't despair: the defense is no longer dinged up. Chris Dunkley, Jamie Byrd and Reshard Cliett all practiced normally this week. Cincinnati destroyed SMU last week, but they've been outplayed by Miami, Ohio State and Memphis this year while USF has held its own with the likes of Wisconsin and East Carolina. To be fair, Cincinnati did lose Gunner Kiel to a rib injury in the Memphis game, so Munchie Legaux had to come in and take over as backup quarterback. They lost 42-14.
This week Tuberville suspended freshman quarterback Jarred Evans until his legal problems clear. Evans was a dual-threat guy who saw some playing time against Ohio State, Miami and SMU. He played a lot in the second half against SMU because Cincinnati rested Gunner Kiel due to his continuing rib problems. With Kiel at less than 100% and Evans suspended, the thinnest position for Cincinnati is now at quarterback. To the stats:
Cincinnati throws for 323 yards per game and rushes for 120. USF throws for 181 yards per game and rushes for 130.
Cincinnati has a variety of spread sets for Gunner Kiel to work from and he usually is looking to pass. The normal Bearcat set is Kiel in the shotgun, with no tight ends and at least four wide outs (a "10" set as in 1 RB and 0 TE). Kiel is not a great runner, but if the situation calls for ithe is not afraid to keep the ball. The Bearcats are doing something right when even at 3-3 they are the 12th best passing team in the country.
Or maybe three wins means they're doing something wrong. We'll get to that shortly.
When Cincinnati runs, the ball goes to Rodriguez Moore (143 yards this season) or Hosey Williams (140 yards this season) (Ed: apparently Hosey is done for the year with a knee injury) . Cincinnati is focused on passing, which explains their dismal rushing numbers. When you throw it that effectively... why do you need to run it?
When USF runs the ball usually goes to Marlon Mack, who has rushed for 727 yards so far. The ground game will need to be solid for USF. But rushing is the staple of USF's offense, and it's going to be all but impossible to win this game without an above-average rushing from the Bulls.
Gunner Kiel averages 309 passing yards per game, that's 13th in the country. Mike White is 93rd with 156 passing yards per game.
So Kiel is one of the best quarterbacks around and White is one of the best quarterbacks . . . on our team. The Bulls have handled prolific offenses well so far this year though, so Kiel shouldn't be expecting to have a monumental game. White seems to be settling down and improving, so this could be a breakout game for him. Still, I'd take the banged up Kiel over the healthy White any day of the week.
Cincinnati's offensive line averages 20 pounds heavier than USF's defensive line. USF's offensive line averages 38 pounds heavier than Cincinnati's defensive line.
Aside from USF's size advantage, one difference you will see is that the Bearcats will do more popping up for pass protection and the Bulls will do more pushing forward for run plays. The Cincinnati defensive line had a lot of trouble with the big offensive lines of Ohio State and Miami, so they could have trouble with USF's big guys too. The Bearcat to look out for is defensive end Terrell Hartsfield, who has five sacks in six games this year. If the Bulls control Hartsfield, the line of scrimmage will be theirs to lose.
Cincinnati gives up 524 yards per game while USF gives up 418.
Middle linebacker Jeff Luc is Cincinnati's leading tackler, with six solo and 12.5 total per game. Aside from Luc and the aforementioned Hartsfield, there isn't much to the Bearcat defense. Mike White should have plenty of time to throw, and we know he needs every second of it. Cincinnati's front seven have trouble stopping the run, which makes this game a good opportunity for Mack to get chunks of yardage.
Cincinnati's special teams rivals that of USF.
Freshman Bearcat kicker Andrew Gantz has been great, having made six of seven field goals and ranked 14th in accuracy (though he has missed an extra point). USF's Marvin Kloss has made nine of eleven and is 25th. Mattias Ciabatti is among the country's top 10 punters with an average of 46 yards per punt. Freshman Bearcat punter Sam Geraci is dead last in the country with a 37-yard average. Cincinnati's kick returner Johnny Holton has been just as effective as USF's Chris Dunkley; Holton has 450 yards on 21 returns, Dunkley has 470 on 21 returns.
A win for USF means an upset that would guarantee the best season since 2011 and would go a long way to fuel the turnaround that Taggart is working on. It could also put USF at the top of the conference (or at least in the top three). The Bulls have the talent and the opportunity, and last week's epic comeback against Tulsa showed us that there's still a season to fight for here.
With Cincinnati's outstanding offense and weak defense, this should be an entertaining game if nothing else.