Tonight at 8 on ESPN, the Cincinnati Bearcats make their way down I-71 to face the Louisville Cardinals. It's the 52nd meeting in the series. If you somehow didn't know, the teams play for the best trophy in the world, the Keg of Nails. This is a big game for both programs. Louisville is marching through it's schedule undefeated. Cincinnati is coming off a tough loss last week, but the Bearcats have been the barometer for the Big East many of the past few seasons. UC and UofL split shares of the Big East championship last season. I always have looked forward to this game so much. The stakes this season are very high. Cincinnati can get right back in the Big East race by knocking off the Cards. Louisville can conquer one of the biggest rivals and set up the path towards a BCS bid. There were also comments by one of the quarterbacks about how he was better than the other team's quarterback and that he would show the world tonight. It's time to show off, Munchie.
Record: 5-1, 1-0
Coach: Butch Jones 19-12
Vs Louisville: 29-21-1
At Louisville: 13-9-1 (Cincinnati) 13-10-1 (Louisville)
Keg of Nails Streak: 4 years
Last Meeting: 25-16 October 15, 2011
Leading Passer: Munchie Legaux 96-180 - 1,435 yards - 12 TDs -5 INTs
Leading Rusher: George Winn 97 - 607 - 4 TDs
Leading Receiver: Travis Kelce 13 - 286 - 2 TDs
Quarterback: Munchie Legaux is making the biggest start of his career. Let's just throw all those cards on the table right now. He is coming off a horrible performance at Toledo. He had one of his comments blown up to become a talking point for the game. He has never faced the kind of scrutiny that he will tonight. It's a game he has to play well. Cincinnati will lose if he doesn't. He doesn't have to throw for 400 yards, he just has to play to the best of his talent. We know he's not going to throw darts all over the field, complete 80% of his passes and pick Louisville apart. He's got to make smart throws. He's got to protect the ball when he runs. He is the Bearcats second leading rusher for the season. He doesn't have to make every play, he just has to make the right plays. Sometimes that will be a throw away. Sometimes that will be a check down instead of throwing deep. Munchie can't let the pressure from the Louisville defense get to him. It's a big day for this young man.
Running Backs: There was some movement on the depth chart this week. Tion Green has passed Jameel Poteat for the 3rd running back spot. It sounds like a significant move, but let's keep in mind that the Bearcats have been only running 3 people in the games that matter most. The running back split pretty much is dead and buried. I do hope Tion Green finds a way to get on the field. He's a talented guy. George Winn has to be licking his chops after watching Lindsey Lamar run for 100 yards against Louisville last week. Lamar went up the middle on a lot of his runs. Winn runs up the middle on a lot of his runs. 1+1 doesn't equal 2 here, but it's something to put in your back pocket. I don't know what that means. That sentence was basically garbage. Winn is going to run and he is going to run tough against the Cards. Isaiah Pead ran wild on Louisville the past 2 years. 2010 isn't remembered as a Pead game because Collaros and Binns went nuts. He had 145 yards in that game. Winn doesn't have to get 145 yards by himself, but a combination of he and Ralph David Abernathy IV do. I'm interested to see how often RDA touches the ball. I think he needs to be more involved in the passing game. He is one of many Cats with 14 receptions. I think he walks out tonight fully in second place in catches for the team.
Receivers: The wide receivers should be getting more heat for the struggles of Munchie Legaux. I'm sorry, it's true. None of them is averaging 50 yards a game. Only Travis Kelce, now the leading receiver in terms of yards, has picked up his game lately. Kenbrell Thompkins had 134 yards against Virginia Tech. He hasn't gone over 50 yards in any other game this season. Anthony McClung has 14-185-1 TD because he's been banged up some and because he just hasn't made explosive plays. Damon Julian has 14-273-3 TDs and is the one Munchie seems to look to for the big play. But even Julian has struggled since Virginia Tech. His high in yards came last week with 36. Alex Chisum has only 5-87 so far because of injuries. The biggest impact the receivers made last week was that they held on 2 long runs. Someone, anyone, has to turn it on.
Offensive Line: The group of Eric Lefeld, Austen Bujnoch, Dan Sprague, Sam Longo and Parker Ehinger keeps on rocking and rolling. Cincinnati is averaging 5.9 yards a rush. They average 8 yards per pass. That's a total of 6.8 yards a play. They have only given up 4 sacks this season. The group doesn't get penalized that often. This is a very good group of offensive linemen. Definitely a strength of the squad.
Defensive Line: For some reason Walter Stewart is listed at the top of the depth chart for this game, even though he's been ruled out. That's weird. Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano will start at the ends, with Camaron Beard and Jordan Stepp or John Williams in the middle. Adam Dempsey, a tackle, is banged up and didn't play last week. Another loss for the rotation that was clearly worn down by Toledo last week. Giordano has had a nice season. He's got 23 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks. John Williams also has 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Beard has made 4 tackles for loss. Stepp has 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack. Mills has 1 sack this season, but 3 hurries. He recovered a fumble last week. Elijah Shuler found his way in the mix last week and got a sack. Big game for this group with Louisville's 2 headed running attack.
Linebackers: The leading tackles for the Bearcats are their 2 linebackers that are on the field almost every down. Greg Blair has made 54 tackles, 3 for loss, with 2 INTs. Maalik Bomar has made 46 tackles, 1 for loss. They are both vital parts of the Cincinnati defense. They both are going to have their hands full trying to cover the Louisville receivers. The Cards will try to pick on the linebackers just like everyone has since Miami. There is a weakness in pass coverage. Especially with Bomar. It's going to be picked on. It's all about how you respond in the face of adversity. Let's see how the B's respond. Nick Temple has had a quietly good season considering he isn't on the field a ton. He has 18 tackles and a sack. He's broken up 2 passes. Maybe he will make a play on special teams.
Defensive Backs: The UC secondary has some playmakers. Teddy Bridgewater is going to challenge them to make plays. This is a great test for the secondary. There isn't a QB in the league as good as Bridgewater. If the Cats can make plays on him, they can make plays on anyone. Both Cameron Cheatham and safety Arryn Chenault have 2 INTs. Deven Drane has 1 INT and a fumble recovery TD. Drew Frey and Chris Williams have made a tackle for loss. Cheatham and Drane are going to be challenged at corner, but I think it comes down to Williams, Frey and Chenault in coverage. Bridgewater fires the ball around. One of them has to make a play on one of the other Card receivers.
Special Teams: Kirk Willis continues to snap the ball only to Pat O'Donnell. POD has punted for a 43 yard average. 9 of his 22 punts have landed inside the 20. 4 have been over 50 yards. He's a little banged up with a hamstring injury, but he can change field position, which should be a big key. POD holds for the Golden Toe Tony Miliano. Tony is 9-12 on field goals, 5-5 from under 40, 4-7 from 40+. He made all 3 last week. Danny Milligan is averaging 20.7 yards a punt return on his 3 tries. Anthony McClung is averaging 12.8. Kick return wise, RDA IV is getting nearly 26 yards a pop. McClung and Shaq Washington are listed as the other kick returners. That might not matter because RDA IV has returned 14 of the 15 kickoffs.
Record: 7-0, 2-0
Coach: Charlie Strong 21-12
Rank: 14/16, 16 in BCS
PJCS vs Cincinnati: 4-3
Leading Passer: Teddy Bridgewater 138-188 - 1,694 yards - 11 TDs - 3 INTs
Leading Rusher: Senorise Perry 107 - 588 - 10 TDs
Leading Receiver: DeVante Parker 16 - 337 - 2 TDs
Quarterback: Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He's completing 73.4% of his passes. He can pick your defense apart with his right arm. He can throw deep, he can throw short, he can make the tough passes up the sideline. The only games he's throw interceptions in have been in extreme rain. Bridgewater is a great quarterback. He isn't a great rusher. He has 82 yards on the season and 1 TD. That's about 11 yards a game. He prefers sitting in the pocket and throwing darts. That's why getting pressure on him is so important. He's not going to beat himself. UC has to make plays to beat him, sacks, fumbles, INTs, anything. It's not going to be easy.
Running Backs: The Cardinals go with a 2 man split. Senorise Perry has 107 attempts for 588 yards and 10 TDs. Jeremy Wright has 110 attempts for 477 yards and 7 TDs. Perry is the one to watch out for on the big plays. He has the longest run in a Louisville game this season of 59 yards. Wright's long has been 21. In the Thunder and Lightning scenario, Wright is Thunder and Perry is Lightning. It doesn't matter what back is gaining yards, the Cardinal offense will split it up. Both backs are targets out of the backfield, particularly Wright. He has 16-133. Perry has 12-133. Louisville will pound away, especially in the red zone. 17 rushing TDs between them is a lot.
Wide Receivers: As mentioned previously, DeVante Parker is the Cardinal leader in yards with 337. He's 7 receptions behind the leading pass catcher, Damian Copeland. Copeland has 23-262-1 TD this season. Parker is the main deep threat on the team, averaging 21.1 yards a reception. Andrell Smith has 15-220-1 TD. Eli Rogers 15-152-2 TDs, Nate Nord 11-103-1 TD, Charles Gaines 9-163-1 TD, Nick Heuser has 2 TD catches. 12 players have caught the 142 completions from Louisville quarterbacks. You don't know who is getting the ball and they can all make plays.
Offensive Line: From left to right, you have Alex Kupper, John Miller, Mario Benavides, Jake Smith and Jamon Brown. The Cards average 4.2 yards a rush and 8.7 yards per pass. That's good for 6.1 yards a play. Louisville has given up 13 sacks, nearly 2 a game. Maybe there is something to take advantage of in this aspect. No Walter Stewart is tough.
Defensive Line: Cardinal end Lorenzo Mauldin was named the Big East defensive player of the week this past week. He's joined at end by Marcus Smith. Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn are the starting tackles. Mauldin has 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Both of those lead the team. Dunn has 1 sack. Smith has 3 tackles for loss and a sack. He's also picked off a pass. Philon has 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 of those being in sacks. Deiontrez Mount has an awesome name and 1.5 sacks this season.
Linebackers: The Cardinal linebackers have their own double B's. Preston Brown and Keith Brown are 2 of the 3 starting backers, along with George Durant. Preston is the leading tackler of the group with 45. He's broken up 2 passes. Keith Brown is 5th on the team in tackles with 29. He's done that in 5 games. He has a pair of QB hurries, so you know he likes to blitz. Durant has 3 tackles for loss and half a sack. He has a hurry. Champ Lee doesn't have stats worth talking about, but his name is Champ Lee.
Defensive Backs: The Louisville secondary hasn't been a high point for the team lately. They gave up a couple of TDs to USF. That doesn't mean they aren't a talented unit. Adrian Bushell and Terrell Floyd man the corners, Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor the safety spots. Pryor leads the Cardinals with 54 tackles. He also leads the team with 4 forced fumbles. He has 1 INT. Hakeem Smith is an All Big East selection. He has 39 tackles, 1.5 for loss. He's broken up a pair of passes and has forced a fumble this season. Bushell has 36 tackles, 0.5 for loss. He's picked off a pass and is tied for the team lead in passes broken up with 4. He's recovered a pair of fumbles. Floyd has 27 tackles, 3 of them for loss. He is second on the team with 2 sacks. He's tied with Bushell with 4 passes broken up. Andrew Johnson didn't play last week, but he should tonight. He has 16 tackles. Jermaine Reve has 3.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack. They blitz the corners.
Special Teams: Grant Donovan snaps punts to Ryan Johnson. Johnson is averaging 40.8 yards a punt. 9 of his 20 punts have been inside the 20. He has had 1 blocked. The Cards kicker is a split position. John Wallace has kicked more, 5-5, but Matthew Nakatani has made the long of 45. Louisville has attempted, and made, 7 field goals this season. Kai Dominguez will handle punt returns. He has a 6.4 yard average. Not great. Louisville uses quite a few guys to return kicks. Adrian Bushell has been the most successful with a 23.8 yard average.
It is raining in Louisville right now and is suppose to rain all night.
Special teams are going to be a major key here. I would say Cincinnati has a distinct advantage at kicker, punter, punt return and kick return. They have to take advantage of it. Special teams was a killer last week in the loss to Toledo. If Cincinnati can force Wallace and Nakatani to try field goals, that's a win. Even if they make them all. Louisville has only kicked 3 touchbacks on kickoffs. Another area for the Bearcats to take advantage. You would love to see RDA bust one.
Louisville has been outscored 56-39 in the 4th quarter this season. They have blown leads in multiple games, including last week. This one won't be over until the final whistle. That's true about every game, but competitively, it won't be over until the final whistle.
I think we could see a lot of running plays tonight. Both teams like to lean on the ground game. Louisville ran for just 2.1 yards a carry last year. Cincinnati ran for 4.9. I have a feeling one of those stats will be similar this year.
We've heard all week that Louisville likes to take chances on defense. They have not made a lot of plays in the secondary, 3 INTs, so I throw deep on them. Let KT go an get it. Maybe you can get in a Virginia Tech type of situation.
I'm a little, a lot, worried about Bridgewater picking on the linebackers in coverage. Let's see if the Cats come up with a scheme to throw them off.
Get RDA IV the ball early and often. 12 touches for him would be solid.
KEG OF NAILS, BABY. If you aren't excited about tonight, you aren't my friend.