USF will get another opportunity for a big win as the top team in the AAC, Cincinnati, comes in to Tampa. The Bulls have squandered their other opportunities this season and time is running out to get a season-defining win.
Like those previous opportunities, the task will not be an easy one. Cincinnati enters the game with an 8-1 record with their only loss being to #2 Ohio State. They are well-coached and talented. Let’s take a look at the numbers and the schemes that make the Bearcats so formidable.
General Game Management
Marino Rule Plus
Cincinnati’s success can be partly attributed to their Marino Rule numbers. The Bearcats rank 34th nationally in third down conversion rate. Defensively, their opponent third down rate is ranked 73rd.
The USF offense has greatly improved on third down as the season has progressed. The Bulls now rank 57th in country on third down, whereas earlier in the year that number was in the 120’s. The USF defense has improved slightly on third downs but is still ranked a disappointing 113th.
Cincinnati has really thrived this season in turnover margin. Their +8 margin is good for 11th in the country. USF is +6 in turnover margin, ranking 17th. However, the Bulls do have an outlier game doing a lot of heavy lifting towards that number. Against FCS opponent South Carolina State, the Bulls gained eight turnovers and lost none. If you take this game out of the equation, USF would be at a -2 for the season and in a tie for 78th nationally.
The average starting filed position for each team is pretty similar. Both are above the national average of the 29.5 yard line.
Yards Per Play (YPP), Explosive Plays, and Sacks
Cincinnati has the advantage on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Bearcats are 63rd in YPP while the Bulls rank 96th. On defense, Cincinnati ranks 32nd while USF comes in at 42nd.
The two teams have faced very similar competition to this point, so comparisons between YPP would seem to be valid.
Both teams have faced offenses with an average ranking of 68 based on ypp. USF has actually faced tougher defenses on average, with regards to ypp.
What’s interesting is than despite being outgained by over a half yard per play, USF has actually generated more explosive plays (scrimmage plays gaining 20+ yards) than Cincinnati.
USF ranks 61st in explosive plays generated, while Cincinnati is ranked 75th. The Cincinnati defense has given up one fewer explosive play than USF, with the teams ranking 52nd and 55th respectively.
With USF being ahead in explosive plays, what can account for such a big gap in YPP? Beyond the aforementioned slightly tougher schedule, one answer would be sacks.
Cincinnati has allowed half as many sacks as USF. The Bearcats are not stellar at protecting the passer, ranking 69th, but USF has been much worse throughout the season. The Bulls rank 127th in sacks allowed. Having that many more negative plays can account for some of the offensive YPP difference. Defensively, both teams get to the passer at a near equal rate. Cincinnati is ranked 36th in sacks while USF is ranked 43rd.
Cincinnati relies on a good running game led by running backs Michael Warren (3), and quarterback Desmond Ridder(9). The Bearcats also get big contributions from backup running back Gerrid Doakes(23). Cincinnati is ranked 46th in yards per rushing attempt. When they go the air, the Bearcats will look to target tight end Josiah Deguara (83) and wide receivers Alec Pearce (12) and Rashad Medaris (17). Let’s take a closer look at the schemes you will see from the Bearcats’ offense on Saturday.
Cincinnati has a tough and talented offense. They will throw the ball some, but most likely will be looking to give USF more runs than after a pregame meal of Skyline Chili. If the Bulls can contain the ground game they will have great chance of slowing down the Bearcat attack.
The Cincinnati defense is a well-coached unit that uses a 3-4 as its base. They will play most snaps with three down lineman and use a hybrid linebacker they call the Jack. Their Jack this season, Michael Pitts (43), leads the team in sacks and tackles for loss. Even though most snaps are spent in a 3 man front, Cincinnati is still one of the better units in the country against the run. They are only giving up 3.51 yards per rushing attempt, which is good for 27th in the country. They are also good against the pass ranking 46th in yard allowed per pass attempt. Let’s check out the schemes that have made the Cincinnati defense so successful.
The Bearcat defense is tough and sound. They are stout up front with several different players standing out on film. Their linebackers play fast and get downhill. They are also not afraid to be physical on the back end. I would expect to see Bearcat defensive backs up in the face of the USF receivers. If it was ever a time for one of the Bulls’ receivers to break out, this would be the week. If receivers are unable to get separation, the Bearcats will be able to load up the box and take away the run. If USF can get some big plays in the passing game, they can open up the defense for the run game. It’s going to be tough test for the Bulls offense.
Cincinnati is physical and well coached. There is a reason they are currently the top ranked team in the conference. USF will have to play their best game of the season to win and keep hope of going to a bowl game alive.