The Cincinnati Bearcats find themselves in a familiar position. They are towards the top of the conference headed into the last game of the season, hoping to get into a better bowl game than the one they're slated to play in. The Bearcats have been consistent in their ability to at least finish towards the top of the conference, if not winning the conference all together. That consistency has helped them maintain a high level of talent even though they've dealt with multiple coaching changes.
At one point this season Teddy Bridgewater didn't even lead his own conference in completion percentage. He trailed Brandon Kay, who has been the starter at UC since week 3. Kay is a major upgrade from Munchie "I'm better than Teddy" Legaux, who Louisville faced last year. UC runs a spread offense and just like anyone that spreads the field, they need a quarterback that can deliver the ball accurately to the playmakers out wide. Kay does a great job of making a quick decision on where to go with the ball and delivering an accurate pass.
Louisville is still allowing too many yards down the field and Kay has plenty of arm to get the ball down to his stable of wideouts. Kay benefits from getting a ton of time from his offensive line and he tends to play with somewhat of a gunslinger's mentality. He knows just how good his receivers are and he trusts them to make plays for him. It has worked out very well for him so far this year and Louisville will need to respect his arm strength or get burned.
Ralph Abernathy only had 11 touches in last year's game and he scored 2 touchdowns. The fact that he scored twice isn't as crazy as the fact that they didn't get him the ball more after that. Abernathy is the type of "space" player that Louisville struggles with and he had a couple of really nice plays early on last year. UC didn't struggle running the ball, but I think that he is a weapon against aggressive defenses and he was underutilized.
This year, Abernathy has struggled to make many big plays, but he has been given the opportunities. He's still super scary in space and he worries me to death because he can cut so quickly and make guys miss. He teams with Tion Green and Hosey Williams to provide a very formidable backfield. Williams is having the best season statistically, but any of these three can easily take over a game. Louisville has to make UC one dimensional to slow down this offense. Stopping the draw plays UC likes to run will be essential to a win.
UC's receivers are just stellar. These guys are always open and they make a ton of plays at all levels of the passing game. They have 5 legit guys including Shaq Washington, who's good for about 7 catches a game,. Max Morrison is a really nice possession guy that works the middle of the field well. Louisville native MeKale McKay has 7 touchdowns on just 14 catches. Former Louisville commit Anthony McClung is probably having the best season all-around with a shot at hitting 1,000 yards with two solid games to end his season. Finally you have Chris Moore, who is catching touchdown passes at a DeVante Parker-ish rate. He does it just as impressively also. These guys are really good and they are easily the most talented group Louisville has seen this year. Louisville will have to put pressure on Kay to keep these guys from opening things up and getting down the field. He is fearless when it comes to throwing it up and letting his guys go get it. It usually works out in his favor.
The offensive line is having one of the better seasons of any group in the country. They are allowing one sack per game and they are opening giant holes for their backs. What makes the so good in my opinion is their versatility. They can pass protect very well. They do very well getting outside for screen plays and reverses. They also can line up and smack you in the mouth. Louisville couldn't pressure UCF at all in their only loss this year and they can't let that happen against UC or it will be a ling night.
KEY PLAYERS: Pick your poison. There's talent at every position.
UC's defense is about as close to Louisville's as their is in the conference this year. They stymie the run while getting tons of pressure on the quarterback. They like to blitz and trust their defensive backs to stay with opposing receivers. Statistically, they're pretty much right behind Louisville in every category. It's almost uncanny. Teams have been able to pressure Teddy a lot more in the second half of the season. UC will undoubtedly play aggressively because they will trust their offense to score points if Teddy handles the pressure well. This could be the game fans have been waiting for from Louisville's offense as the pressure could lead to lots of attempts down the field.
Silverberry Mouhon leads a very stout defensive line for the Bearcats. He and Jordan Stepp do a great job of getting around blocks to make plays in the backfield. Mouhon is a really good edge rusher and he is very athletic for his size. He seems to line up to the wide side of the field from what I can tell, so he will probably matchup against both tackles. Stepp is a super strong tackle that just plows through people. He plays low which allows him to get great push and he makes plays once he gets where he is going. The line doesn't do a great job of holding up blockers, but they do make plenty of plays on their own to compensate.
Greg Blair gets most of the publicity at linebacker and Jeff Luc is the biggest "name" player on the defense as a whole but Nick Temple really stands out on film. Temple is absolutely everywhere. They use him as somewhat of a weapon for the defense. He blitzes from different angles, plays well in coverage, and he does both very well. There is no weak link at the second level that most teams seem to have. UC isn't great in pass coverage here, but they have experienced guys that won't be caught out of position very often. They also have guys that can get to Teddy in a hurry when they blitz. These guys are all big guys that can run. Temple is undersized, but he has no problem taking on blocks when needed.
One area of the defense that could be nitpicked is the starting secondary and the lack of big plays. You would really have to be nitpicking, though. This group lost a couple of guys from last year and they took a little time trying to find the right group of guys this year, but I'd say that the group they've settled on has played well. Cornerback Deven Drane has bounced back from getting torched by DeVante Parker last year and the rest of the group has been solid. I think the most interesting matchup will be Teddy versus true freshman Zach Edwards. Edwards can run well and he has played well. I just wonder if Teddy can take advantage of young player playing in such a big game.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Silverberry Mouhon, WLB Nick Temple, MLB Greg Blair, S Arryn Chenault
- Cincinnati's roster is full of ridiculous names.
- Munchie isn't playing this year after suffering a gruesome leg injury that I won't link to.
- Brandon Kay is like forty.
- UC is in the negative for turnover margin. That's not good.
- UC's kicker Tony Miliano caught the yips this year. He's 5-14.
- Nippert Stadium is, like, underground. You walk in from the street and walk down steps to get to your seats. I thought it was cool when I was 13. It's dumb as an adult.
- Hosey Williams is apparently pronounced "Jose".