Saturday, December 22

Oops (or the Papa John's Bowl)

(Disclaimer: James' part of this was written before the game, and I didn't look at the score before writing up my half of it. Let's see if this works!)

I'm going to type this slowly for emphasis. Papa John' Bowl - are you serious? You can't just have a URL for your bowl name... it's just wrong. Okay, I'll make an exception if it's but even then why not call it the Uber Micro Bowl? Inexcusable, frankly. I don't know that The Birmingham Bowl (what it was last season) is that much better, but gimme a break here.

Cincinnati Bearcats (by Coach Lawrence)

After a 1-3 start in 2006, Cincinnati served notice that they would be a force to be reckoned with in 2007. First they came within 6 points of beating eventual Big East champ Louisville at Papa John's Stadium. Then they won big home games against South Florida and Rutgers. The Bearcats went on to win the International Bowl in Toronto, where fans wondered why the receivers didn't take a running start.

This season, Cincy opened with a 6-0 start including a blowout win over Oregon State and a tough road win at Rutgers. A loss to reeling Louisville wasn't as shocking as the difference in records indicated, but a loss the following week to Pittsburgh banished the Bearcats from the top 25. They climbed back in with victories over South Florida and UConn before being overmatched against West Virginia and overmatching Syracuse.

Cincinnati has a solid QB in Ben Mauk, but their real strength is controlling the game. The 'Cats outrush their opponents by almost 50 ypg and spread it out just about evenly between Mauk and three RBs. While their defensive totals rank just above average, their first quarter stats against both the pass and the run show a story of Cincinnati throwing the first punch and riding out the rest of the game... offensively as well with steadily declining passing attempts and generally declining rushing attempts. This is also a defense that only gets better as they get further ahead, allowing a lower QB rating and, until the margin gets huge, a lower rushing ypc as the lead increases.

Game Plan
1. Make the game about you. This is a clear mismatch which, as long as they play their game, Cincinnati should win.

2. Jump out early and keep your foot on their throat. It's worked all season.

3. Take away the run. USM is a top 25 rushing offense and a pretty average passing team. Stack the box early and build a lead - force the Golden Eagles to go to the air.

Southern Miss (by Coach Pendley)

If you're looking for the runaway winner of the "Dumbest Move Between the End of the Season and the Bowl" award, Southern Miss wins that award hands-down. Old head coach Jeff Bower (record: 119-82-1) was unceremoniously dumped after a 7-5 season. Bower had also brought USM to 10 bowls in 17 seasons, including 9 bowls over the last 11 years. His bowl record was 6-4 - but that was also 5-2 over the last seven. Why was he fired? Near as I can tell, USM fans and alumni got complacent - Southern Miss wasn't exactly good before Bower stepped on campus except for a stint back in the '50's. Remember when Ole Miss fired David Cutcliffe and went in the crapper a few years ago? Yeah, here we go again. This time, Oklahoma St. offensive coordinator Larry Fedora gets to underperform relative to the old guy. Bower gets to go somewhere where they'll actually like him.

Most seasons, RB Damion Fletcher would be making more noise for haivng a 1,400+ yard season with 15 rushing TDs. Unfotunately for him, two different RBs topped 2,000 yards in C-USA alone. Aside from him, there's not a lot on offense other than TE Shawn Nelson, who's an actual receiving threat (rare enough in its own right). Fortunately for the Golden Eagles, they actually do a good job against the both the run and the pass (3rd and 1st in C-USA respectively), although their periphials aren't anything to write home about.

Keys to Victory:
1: Do whatever it takes to get 7 in the box. Cincinnati's pass defense isn't anything to write home about, so force them to transition to pass defense. Only at that point will Fletcher be effective; Cincy's rush D was the best in the Big East.

2: Hold onto the ball. Cincinnati thrives on the turnover; don't let them. It doesn't really matter how you protect the ball - stickum isn't totally frowned on in these parts - but USM is going to need some serious ball possession in order to win. Think 33+ minutes.

3: Protect the pass. This is doubly tough because Cincinnati is a better passing game in the first half, but it needs to happen. Cincy sports the second-best passing offense in its conference, but it's something that needs to happen. Somehow.