September 2009 Archives

UC-Miami preview '09

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DAY OF GAME: Saturday, October 3

VENUE: Yager Stadium, beautiful downtown Oxford


THE SERIES: Miami leads 59-47-7

LAST TILT: UC won at Nippert last year 45-20

It's  Battle for the Victory Bell #114 if you're scoring at home. UC's won the last three,  

so some of you may think this rivalry's one-sided. I recommend looking at the overall record if you feel that way and you'll notice the Bearcats are still 12 wins behind Miami.

In other words, until the Bearcats administer enough beatings to surpass the "Penny Loafers" the series should continue. While it's easy to have a short memory and think this is all boring, I believe it's better to remember the nationally-televised spanking they gave UC four years ago in a weeknight game in Oxford.

I do. I know Craig Carey does too. He was a freshman then on a very young Mark Dantonio team that got its behind handed to them.

The only thing good about that game that I can recall is I got to meet Heather Mitts who was ESPN's sideline reporter that night.

Erin Andrews? Forget about it.

I'll take "Hometown Heather" any day.

Oh yeah, I'm supposed to talk about football here....

Let's get serious here. At UC's current rate of success in football, this should be the proverbial "good ol' fashioned butt-whippin'". However, taking someone lightly creates bad habits and bad habits won't win you a Big East championship.

I think Brian Kelly should have Gino Guidugli come in and talk to the guys about how Ben Roethlisberger beat him three out of three times. Or, maybe someone from the '98 team that saw "Touchdown Travis" Prentice run through UC like you-know-what through a goose in a 41-0 win at Nippert. Perhaps even get a hold of Jon Bacon who blasted a 58-yard field goal (UC record) in '94, only to see Miami find enough time to set their guy up for a field goal that tied the game 17-17. (No overtime back then, a few years later UC pulled a couple out in OT.)

So, while the Victory Bell is still here (and will accompany the lads to Oxford...and back) each ring of it after a win is a ring for all of the guys that have sported UC colors and still take great pleasure in handing the former 'Skins an L.

UC's offense vs. Miami defense

Miami's defense has some young players and will be good in time. Just not this time. Sure, they'll make some plays, but I don't think they'll be able to keep up with the Bearcats fastbreak or keep it out of the endzone. Tony Pike is in a real good groove and picked a part some of these Redhawks last year in his first significant game at QB. Pike leads the upper echelon QBs in every passing category except TDs and he's second there. Miami coach Mike Haywood is cognizant of Mardy Gilyard, but if you key on Gilyard, Woods or Binns might nail you. If you key on the receivers, Ramsey or Pead sneaks open. If you forget Ben Guidugli or Kazzeem Alli, you're liable to give up six points. Miami in back to back weeks gave up 90 points between Kentucky and Boise State. I would have to think at worst, UC's offense rates between those two.

NOD: If you ring the bell for every Bearcat point, your wrist could get tired.

Miami offense vs. UC defense

After dumping passer Daniel Raudabaugh in favor of Zac Dysert, the Redhawks have at least added a wrinkle to their offense that's moving the chains. In addition to throwing for 337 yards against Kent State, Dysert also ran for 107 and has great escapability according to Brian Kelly. Dysert was actually in the mix to be a Bearcat at one point, so he could use that as motivation along with going down in Miami folklore should there be an upset. Mike Haywood would like to use the Fresno State game plan and chew up yards to limit UC's possessions. On the other hand, while Andre Bratton and Thomas Merriweather are decent backs, neither of them come close to Ryan Mathews of Fresno State. UC should have Dominique Battle back which should help against the Miami passing game. And, Dysert has been a little careless throwing the ball. One bad throw can turn a ballgame (ask Craig Carey).

NOD: I think Miami will be able to move the ball, but not with the efficiency that Fresno State did in trying to keep Tony Pike and company off the field. Dysert's scrambling should give the Bearcats a good preview of what some of the other Big East QBs might be like. Put the "Bell" back on the bus at the end.

Special Teams

Brian Kelly's not happy with his kickoff return team. That means extra work this week and don't be shocked if Gilyard and/or Darrin Williams breaks something in this game. In terms of field goals (remember those Bearcat fans?) I'd like to see Jake Rogers get a crack at more to get his confidence straight for the Big East run. On UC kickoffs, DB coach Kerry Coombs could be feeling squeamish as his son Brayden has been a constant for Miami as a returner. When you've been screaming at your defensive guys to play with reckless abandon, it's got to feel a little awkward to turn them loose on your own son. We like Brayden though, he did come to the Orange Bowl last January to watch the 'Cats. Chris DiCesare is the one Redhawk you hope to see a lot of Saturday. He's the punter.

NOD: Oh, let's be nice and since it's in Oxford call it even.

Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks

UC sold their allotment of tickets and I'm guessing you're going to see more Bearcat fans on hand than Miami would like. Dysert could give the Bearcats problems out of the backfield, but the Bearcats should get some good scout team work on him with Brendon Kay possibly simulating that role. There's some irony there as Kelly took Kay over Dysert a couple years ago. This is also the first time Kelly's faced Miami with his starting QB and full offense at his disposal. Two years ago he won at Oxford with Dustin Grutza subbing for Ben Mauk and winning Big East offensive player of the week honors for his game. Last year, it was Pike in for Grutza in Tony's first start and he looked like he'd been running Kelly's offense all of his life. Now, Pike is firmly the guy and arguably knows more of the diabolically diagrammed Kelly plays. That said, you can't overlook a MAC underdog on their own field and you can't toy around with them, otherwise you wind up with a game like last year's in Akron.

UC-Fresno State Preview

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DATE OF CONTEST:  Saturday, September 26th

VENUE:  Back at "The Nipp"



RECORDS:  Bearcats 3-0, Fresno State 1-2


     As the color-coded system at Nippert goes this year, this is a "White Out" game where everyone's supposed to wear white (duh).  Truthfully, it might be a marketing ploy as there's the "Ring of Red" and "Black Out" games to come.  My guess is the University Bookstore will be amply supplied with red,white and black shirts graced with the Adidas logo and a nifty C-Paw.

     Heck, if you stop by this week you can even get Josh Katzowitz's literary masterpiece.  He tells me he'll be signing before the game.  I bet he'd even sign your white shirt if you asked.

     Anyway, the Bearcats are home and so are the students as class started this week.  That means a rabid student section as UC football is certainly the "in thing" to do on campus.  Two years ago, I witnessed students lined up to get into the gates early for the first time and everything has pretty much steamrolled from there.

     That's good, the program deserves it.

     This should be a fun game as both teams run offenses that fully intend on blowing out bulbs in the scoreboard.   The problem for Fresno State though is their defense has been susceptible.   That's not exactly a recipe for success when you're against UC's finely-tuned fastbreak.

      As gratifying as the Oregon State win was, Brian Kelly was unhappy with some mental errors in the offense.  He also wasn't happy with the special teams.  And, he thinks the Bulldogs offense will provide UC's defense with the toughest test yet.

       What's that add up to?

       Well, I'd look for the Bearcats to be extra prepared and "amped up" for the home crowd.  Brian Kelly doesn't want to be "in the conversation".  He wants to BE the conversation.

        A win here and what should be a win in defense of the Victory Bell the following week sets the Bearcats up real nice for the league schedule.  First things first....


UC's offense vs. Fresno State defense


In what might be considered an "off game" by his early standards, Tony Pike still threw for 332 yards and two TD's (he also ran for one).  D.J. Woods had a breakout game and Armon Binns made big catches.  All of that only offsets what Mardy Gilyard can do.  Out of the backfield, Isaiah Pead stood out and Jake Ramsey's not going to go quietly.  That all adds up to trouble for the Bulldogs who got lit up like a Christmas tree on their own field against Boise State.  Three of their four leading tacklers are defensive backs Moses Harris, A.J. Jefferson and Lorne Bell.  When the "back guys" are making the tackles, plays are being made downfield.  While I admire Boise State's offense, I think UC's passing game is better.  With UC's pacing and the Bulldogs travel schedule, it might not be a pleasant breakfast for those watching on the West Coast.


NOD:  When you're QB's being mentioned in Heisman conversation, something's going right.  I think the Bearcats want to entertain the new students on campus.


Fresno State offense vs. UC defense


Some have disagreed with me (not Brian Kelly) but I think the Fresno State offense is the best UC's seen this year.   They have a whacked-out schedule, but they did take Wisconsin to OT in Madison and regardless of the level of the Badgers, that's not easy.  Their game with Boise State looked like a prizefight as each offense was scoring like it was pinball (Google old arcade game kids).  From a running standpoint, Ryan Mathews broke loose for three 60-plus yard dashes to the endzone.  That's a high school-like game, you just don't see that in an FBS game.  The Bulldog release says they have three RBs with over 1,000 career yards, but the fact is, Mathews is the one to stop.  Fresno State also has three pretty good receivers, but Seyi Ajirotutu is the one that stands out with his 6-4 frame.  For the Bearcats, they really didn't miss a beat with Curtis Young out as Walter Stewart stepped it up and the defense continued to prove people wrong.  Andre Revels and J.K. Schaffer had great games at LB and CB Dominique Battle started laying a helmet on some people after an early Brian Kelly butt-chewing.


NOD:   Stopping Mathews is the obvious key, although Pat Hill has found ways to score with other guys and won't be intimidated by playing a ranked team.  The Bulldogs are on TV all the time.  At home, you have to figure the defense is more awake than Hill's offense.


Special Teams


Brian Kelly's not happy with a number of things.   Again, he's got to WD-40 Jake Rogers' head in place for fear that'll he'll slump.   A shanked rugby punt and missed field goal in Corvallis has Rogers down some.  However, Kelly was quick to point out that Jake's booming kickoff to the end zone from the 20 (after the safety) was a key turning point in beating Oregon State.   As for returns, Fresno State looked like they were chasing a greased pig the other night against Boise as the Broncos broke several kicks.  On the other hand, Fresno State has good return men of their own and a kicker with a "thunder leg" in Kevin Goessling (holds Bulldog record with a 58-yarder).


NOD:   Playing anywhere else but Nippert, I'd learn toward Fresno State in the kicking game.  However, their punt and kickoff teams looked like Swiss cheese, so the Bearcats get a slight edge.


Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks


No coach will ever admit it, but Fresno State's travel schedule is hellacious.  They've already made the Fresno to Madison trip for the Badgers in that time zone.  They had a Friday night game at home and have to play this game at what will be 9 o'clock in the morning back west.   The kicker is, after this one they go to Hawaii.  In all, they're going to travel over 23,000 miles and play in five of six U.S. time zones this season.  Trust me on this one, college kids don't like to be up before noon on a weekend, let alone for a kickoff that's the equivalent of 9 a.m.  This would be a better game at night, but TV dictates when teams play and Pat Hill's team has been on TV more than most.

Stewart is the next "Next Man In"

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When UC was going through quarterbacks last year like George Clooney goes through girlfriends, the team adopted the rallying cry, "Next Man In."  Those words are even engraved on the side of their Orange Bowl rings.

Next Man In on ring re.JPG 

One year later, that slogan is still a big part of the team's identity and it doesn't only apply to the quarterback position.  Case in point:  the sensational performance by "Cat" linebacker Walter Stewart in the 28-18 win at Oregon State.


Stewart replaced the injured Curtis Young and the redshirt freshman was credited with 2 ½ sacks and a forced fumble in his first college start.


"It was a little nerve-racking, but after the first couple of series I was alright and ready to go," Stewart told me after the game.  "Our motto is 'Next Man In' and you always have to be ready, so when Curtis was playing I was always right behind him making sure I knew what I was supposed to do.  People probably don't know about me, but my teammates do and that's all that matters."


"We knew that Walt can really play," senior Andre Revels said.  "He comes with a lot of energy and he's just a fun guy to play with and I'm glad he's getting his opportunity.  We hope that Curtis gets back soon, but "Next Man In" is the system and it's working out really well."


Stewart is a tremendous story.  When he was a young kid, he was seriously injured when he was attacked by a dog.  As a teenager, he was separated from his mother after an incident at home and placed with foster parents Keith and Lynn Fields who helped to raise him in Ashville, OH near Columbus.


Despite having 17 sacks and forcing 6 fumbles as a senior at Teays Valley High School, Stewart was not heavily recruited . . . 6'5", 195 pound linebacker/defensive ends usually aren't. 


"Akron and Youngstown State were the only two offers I had," Walter said.  "Once Cincinnati offered me a scholarship, I jumped at it."


UC assistant coach Tim Hinton recruited Stewart after getting a tip from his high school coach Steve Evans.


"I've known (Evans) since he was in diapers," Hinton told me.  "He's a friend of the family and I've known him his entire life.  Walter is his first Division 1 player so we had to take everything he was saying about how good Walter was going to be with a little bit of a grain of salt because he's never really seen a Division 1 player before."


It didn't take long for Hinton to become a believer, even though Stewart was only rated as a 2-star prospect by


"The thing about college football is - you just never really know," Hinton said.  "You don't know how they'll handle the adjustment to the speed of the college game and the volume of work.  Walter really handled it better from day one than I thought he would.  You could have a 5-star recruit and you could have a no star recruit . . . you don't really know who they are until you get them on campus.  You could tell from his first practice that this kid had something in him that's going to allow him to develop because he just had the mental and physical toughness to work through adversity every day."


While redshirting last year, Stewart was named the Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year while getting bigger and stronger.


"You probably can't tell, but I've gained 30 pounds since I've been at Cincinnati," Stewart said with a grin.  "I'm up to 225 pounds and I'll be 250 or 260 next year guaranteed."


"I think he's grown over an inch since he's been on campus and obviously his weight is going to continue to change," coach Hinton said.  "He looks good in a uniform and he's going to be here for a long time.  His work ethic and his ability to do the little things that some athletes can't do - he has the ability to do them.  The sky's the limit for this kid."


Curtis Young has already had knee surgery and the Bearcats hope to have him back in time for the USF game on October 15th.  In the meantime, it's great to have a "Next Man In" like Walter Stewart.


"It doesn't matter how old you are or how long you've been in the program," said Andre Revels, "when you get your opportunity to shine you had better turn into a star."


* * * * *


I was sorry to read today the USF quarterback Matt Grothe is out for the rest of the season after tearing his left ACL.


Grothe recently became the Big East's all-time leader in total offensive yards with 10,875, and his injury comes just one week before the Bulls play at Florida State.


I'm sure Matt was also looking forward to getting one more crack at facing Cincinnati - the only Big East team that had managed to shut him down over the past 3 season.


In 3 games (all losses) vs. the Bearcats, Grothe was 55-for-106 (52%) for 603 yards, with 1 TD and 8 INT.  That's an NFL quarterback rating of 40.7.


Against everybody else, Grothe was 662-for-1042 (64%) for 8066 yards, with 51 TD and 36 INT.  That's an NFL quarterback rating of 89.2.


I wouldn't be surprised if USF coach Jim Leavitt talks to his players about how the 2008 Bearcats overcame injuries to quarterbacks Dustin Grutza and Tony Pike as he rallies the troops this week.


* * * * *


If you're ever looking for a great sports trivia question, I found one while prepping for the UC/Oregon State game last week.  Ready?


Who is the only Heisman Trophy winner to also play in a Final Four?


It's Oregon State's Terry Baker who won the Heisman in 1962 and started at guard for the Beavers in the Final Four in 1963. 


He was also the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.


* * * * *


Is the UC defense still a question mark after holding Oregon State to 16 points (the safety doesn't count) and running back Jacquizz Rodgers to 73 yards on 20 carries?


It was the first time in Rodgers' 14 college games that he carried the ball at least 20 times and finished with fewer than 90 yards.  Take away one 24-yard gain, and Jacquizz had 49 yards on his other 19 carries against the Bearcats for an average of 2.6 ypc.


What's most exciting are the number of key defensive players who are going to be around for several more seasons. 


The two-deep includes 5 sophomores (Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, JK Schaffer, Wes Richardson, and Dominique Battle) and 7 true or redshirt freshman (Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills, Walter Stewart, Cam Cheatham, Drew Frey, Pat Lambert, and Reuben Johnson).


* * * * *


I'd love to hear from you.  The address is


Enjoy a recent photo of the handsome lad on his first day at preschool.


first day of preschool re.JPG

UC-Oregon State Preview

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DATE OF CONTEST:  Saturday, September 19th

VENUE:  Resor Stadium

"LIVE" FROM CORVALLIS:  6:45 (Cincinnati time)

THE SERIES:  UC leads 1-0

LAST TILT:  Bearcats hard on the Beavers 34-3



     Two years ago, Oregon State came to Nippert for an ESPN game favored to win over Brian Kelly's Bearcats.  Why?

     Well, the Beavers were from the Pac-10 and the Bearcats were not believed to be "the cream of the crop" of the Big East.   Just like there's somewhat of an East Coast slant in the media for certain teams, there's also a West Coast slant for teams that theoretically have bigger names than little ol' Cincinnati.

      I remember interviewing then-Bengal T.J. Houshmandzadeh (who played at Oregon State along with the "artist formerly known as Chad Johnson") and he laughed when I asked about UC's chances.

     "C'mon man, it ain't even going to be close," he said.

      How prophetic he was.  It wasn't close.  UC trapped and whacked the Beavers 34-3.  It was so lopsided that sideline lovely Erin Andrews had to scrap a number of planned cut-ins and move to the UC side of the field to learn about the mighty Bearcats.

       While that game didn't necessarily blow away the nation on the Bearcats, you can pinpoint that as to when Brian Kelly started turning some heads locally.   Ironically that year, UC had also just beat up on Southeast Missouri State with a 59-3 win.

        So, here we are again.  The Bearcats have blown out SEMO and now Oregon State is the next scheduled affair.  Only this time it's in Corvallis, meaning a long plane ride and some time adjustment is in order.

        And, this time the Bearcats are not unknown to Mike Riley and the Beavers.  While not everyone on his squad may be familiar with UC, two of his quarterbacks are.   Current starter Sean Canfield and reserve Lyle Moevao both played here and might still be having nightmares.  Each was picked off three times and the best the Beaver offense could do was a second quarter field goal.

         You can bet that revenge will be a major factor in this game, no matter what anyone from the Oregon State camp says to the contrary.

          While the Beavers skew young, they still have a number of guys on their team that dismantled then #1 USC last year playing on this same field.  The Bearcats have already encountered hostile territory, but that was in the same time zone.  Oregon State has won their last 26 non-conference games in Corvallis--will the Bearcats be the first to put a dent in that record?

         Let's throw some material at the ventilator and see what happens?


UC's offense vs. Oregon's defense


The Beavers only gave up a touchdown against Portland State in their opener, but gave up three second-half touchdowns at UNLV last weekend and needed a late field goal to win.  Outside of Lance Mitchell, who forced a fumble and had an INT last week, the secondary is relatively inexperienced.  They've also had some pass rushing issues and that combined with the secondary should be of concern to Beaver fans when they're facing Tony Pike and the UC fast-paced spread.  Given too much time, Pike has been very precision-like in picking about defenses.  Plus, Pike has more than one go-to guy.

Surely, Mike Riley's seen tape of Mardy Gilyard, but if you double Gilyard, you must contend with Binns, Woods or Marcus Barnett (and "Bones" caught five balls and scored twice on Oregon State in the last go-round).   Another key is the explosive emergence of Jake Ramsey as both a receiver and quicker runner.  And, the volume in the running game only gets turned up when Isaiah Pead is in the game.

   UC's offense is the toughest Oregon State's faced thus far.  The biggest advantage the Beavers have is, will UC be able to play at the same speed in the Oregon altitude?  However,  Oregon State will be running also and I believe the Bearcat conditioning and training will hold up.


Oregon State offense vs. UC defense


Just as UC's offense will be the best Oregon State's faced.  The Beavers have the best set of offensive weapons the Bearcats have seen.  Jacquizz Rodgers grew up a fan of Barry Sanders and at 5-7 and 191 pounds is similar in size and talent.  He missed two games last year and still ran for over 1200 yards.

Against UNLV, he ran for 166 yards and a score and caught 10 passes for 65 yards.  Likewise, his brother James (of similar size and speed)  had six catches for 48 yards and a score.  Lefty QB Sean Canfield, while bypassing the deep ball, was 25 of 31 for 198 yards with a pair of TD tosses.  Here's hoping that, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas".   An upside for UC, is the Beavers don't really run a hurry-up style, so the Bearcats should have some breathers in between.  If they can effectively stop the run, they should be in good shape, and they have effectively stopped the run in two games.

Oregon State does have some relative newcomers on their offensive line, so if Curtis Young and his D-line cohorts can find some way to disrupt the backfield, that would also be beneficial.  I would look for Canfield to test UC's young secondary, but again they haven't really tried to stretch the field much that way.


NOD:   UC hasn't faced a back like Jacquizz Rodgers yet and the key is stopping him.  I would think if UC's Darrin Williams (similar size) looks bumped and bruised this week, it would be because he was mimicking Jacquizz Rodgers all week long.  If you can stop Mr. Rodgers in his neighborhood, you win, simple as that.  I think the Beavers will score more than UC's first two opponents have, but I don't think it'll be enough.


Special Teams


Brian Kelly already switched to Patrick O'Donnell in game two to be his punter and this will be an interesting test for a true freshman on the road.   Ideally, you won't see O'Donnell and that means the offense is in gear.  Realistically though, he will have to boot a ball or two in front of the screaming fans in Corvallis.   Jake Rogers has been smooth so far and he does own a 55-yarder against the Beavers last time around.  For Oregon State. Kicker Justin Kahut has made some key kicks (game-winner vs. UNLV), but also has had some inconsistent moments and did miss a PAT last week.  Both teams have return threats.  James Rodgers took a kickoff to the house last year.  UC has Special Teams Player of the Week Mardy Gilyard who now has returned both a punt and a kickoff to the coveted "land of six".


NOD:  Give Oregon State the edge in the kicking game due to familiarity with the conditions.  If Oregon State keys on Gilyard on returns, you still have Darrin Williams on kickoffs and D.J. Woods on punts who are no slouches either.  Beavers have given up substantial yards on returns, but again at home you always play a little more inspired.


Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks


In Corvallis, they have to be looking at their schedule with the Pac-10 ahead (Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, USC. UCLA. Cal, Washington, Washington State and Oregon) and thinking this is a must-win.  As unfair and wrong as it is, Oregon State still has more to lose here than UC.  And, as unfair and as wrong as it is, the national story--if UC wins--will be Oregon State LOSES to Cincinnati, not Cincinnati BEATS Oregon State.  I don't believe Brian Kelly will admit it, but that has to "get his dander up".   I believe that even after the national dismantling of Rutgers, Kelly wants now wants to make a West Coast statement with this game.  A lot will be made of the atmosphere at Corvallis and that's well documented.  But, Tony Pike has played in front of hostile Rutgers fans, hostile Hokie fans in the Orange Bowl, hostile Mountaineer fans,etc.  A "'Cat-calling" crowd is nothing new to Pike.  From a historical point-of-view, Brian Kelly and Tony Pike have played two games in the West Coast (and beyond) time zone:  San Diego State in '07 and Hawaii in '08.  While Pike wasn't the feature performer in either, he did play in both and UC won both.