WHEN: Saturday, September 11th
SHOE ON BALL: High Noon (or thereabout depending on preplanned pageantry)
WHERE: The Friendly Confines of Nippert Stadium
THE SERIES: UC leads 3-1
LAST TIME: Bearcats 40-21, Nov. 12, 1988.
First things first, any UC fan who was not disappointed with the opening loss at Fresno State had best call 911 and check for a pulse. If you watched it, you know that the Bearcats looked to be on the verge of domination when suddenly the Bulldogs appeared and the Bearcats disappeared.
I don't have the answers. If I did, I would've phoned Butch Jones at halftime.
What can't be overlooked is the possibility that Fresno State might be pretty good and that playing in that time zone and in that environment is extremely difficult--particularly in an opener. Previous Bearcat games on the west coast and beyond have come later in the season when the team was able to gel and find an identity. Taking a new staff and new system that far away for game one might have been more ambitious than UC would like to admit.
Keep in mind too, this series predated Butch Jones. Also, television has a way of matching teams up and the demand for athletic dollars causes you to compromise sometimes in order to keep a program going.
That said (or written) it is one game, with 11 more on the schedule and hopefully a bowl game. True, the Bearcats will really need to get their act together to pull that off, but the Coach Jones track record indicates that will take place.
If you're into numbers, Butch Jones lost two of three of his openers at Central Michigan. The Chippewas also had some challenging games in his three years.
In 2007, CMU lost at Kansas 52-7, but rebounded and were 8-6 in his initial year. In 2008, they won 31-12 over Eastern Illinois on their way to a 9-4 mark. And, last season the Chippewas lost at Arizona 16-9, but only lost one more the rest of the way. In each of his three seasons, Central Michigan went to a bowl game.
So, yes it's CMU and the MAC, but Jones has been in these situations before and still has the talent on board to right the ship. This even despite the loss of Vidal Hazelton to a torn ACL after the Fresno State loss. Marcus Barnett is slated to step up for Vidal and it may be just what the doctor ordered for "Bones"who slipped to a back-up role after starring for Brian Kelly as a true freshman with 13 touchdown receptions.
The truth of the matter is Bearcat fans have been spoiled with back-to-back amazing seasons and BCS bowls. Those of us that were in attendance in Boise in 1997 for UC's first bowl in nearly 50 years know that "major bowls" don't just appear on your doorstep every year. Those of you that just jumped onboard because it was "trendy" might not.
While we want you "trendy folks" to stay and enjoy the ride, you kind of remind me of people who go see Jimmy Buffett every year at Riverbend and know, "Margaritaville" and "Fins". Beyond that, it's a chance to wear a flowery shirt and enjoy tropical beverages. The real appreciation comes from those that may know a tune or two from, "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean".
Anyway, I really do appreciate the fact you're sitting here (or at "The Nipp") and I hope you open up your book of "corporese" and study the "it's a marathon, not a sprint" quote. You really will sleep better.
Now, as the legendary Bobby Knight once said at an eventful NCAA newsconference, onto the game....
A lot of local ties in this one and this could be another game where Bengals coach Marvin Lewis stands on the OPPOSITE sideline again. (He did it last year with Fresno State as he's friends with Pat Hill.) This time, Marvin's son Marcus (Jr.-Indian Hill) is on the Indiana State Sycamores.
The connections don't stop there. The Sycamores linebacker coach is none other than Rick Minter who makes his return to Nippert Stadium coaching for another team. The key to Minter's involvement with Indiana State is that his youngest son Jesse is the Recruiting Coordinator and defensive backs coach. Also, coaching corners is P.J. Volker from Mount St. Joseph and former Bearcat corner Jeff Burrow is a defensive assistant.
In addition to Marcus Lewis, local Indiana State players include: Evan Borchers (Jr.-OL-Colerain) Jordan Bright (Soph.-DL-Wyoming) Brad Hasdorff (RS Fresh.-OL-Colerain) Leonard Rister (RS Fresh.-Withrow) and Tyler Williams (Jr.-RB-Oxford Talawanda).
To the matchups we go....
UC OFFENSE VS. INDIANA STATE DEFENSE
Honestly, this shouldn't be pretty. Probably the worst thing that happened for Indiana State last weekend was UC had a down game out west. Butch Jones is not used to losing, QB Zach Collaros is not used to losing and the Bearcats will be in full "face-saving" mode Saturday afternoon. The offensive line took its lumps and the run game stalled, so you can bet Isaiah Pead is anxious to rectify that. In the passing game, despite the unfortunate loss of Hazelton, D.J. Woods was outstanding in the opener and Armon Binns still has big play capability. Going back to Marcus Barnett's freshman year, his QB was Ben Mauk. Mauk and Collaros are very similar in style, so perhaps this benefits "Bones".
Also, Ben Guidugli has got to be more involved than just one pass and I would suspect his options would increase.
The Sycamores have no Chris Carter (Fresno State DL) but do have Rod Hardy who recorded three sacks in their 57-7 blowout of St. Joseph's (Indiana) in week one. Larry King, a freshman defensive back led ISU in that game with eight tackles, a sac and 1.5 TFL. Rick Minter will want to make a good showing, but I'm afraid the timing of this puts him in a bad predicament.
NOD: Wouldn't be shocked to see UC hang 50 on the board and they should at least have 30 on talent alone. Not being arrogant, just saying.
INDIANA STATE OFFENSE VS. UC DEFENSE
UC's defense was on the cusp of a great game against Fresno State, until some wise adjustments were made by the Bulldog coaching staff. Derek Wolfe was very active, as was Maalik Bomar. Pat Lambert had the big interception, but there were some disappointing coverages by other members of the secondary. That shouldn't be a huge issue this game as the Sycamores don't fling the ball around too much. Indiana State had two 100-yard rushers with Sr. Darrius Gates (160) and Fresh. Shakir Bell (133), so it doesn't appear the UC secondary will be busy unless Gates and Bell are busting through big holes.
NOD: Assuming UC can stop Indiana State's run game, there could be some turnovers to be had if the Sycamores are forced to throw.
Jake Rogers missed a 48-yarder at Fresno State, which could have been a momentum changer swinging things back to the Bearcats. Again, you can blame it on the road, but Rogers should be used to that by now. Honestly though, a 48-yarder in any league is no "gimme". Back at home, Jake should be back in gear. For Patrick O'Donnell, it's more game experience and he's going to get better and better. Indiana State's punter is Santonio Davis who averaged 48 yards last week. You can hope that you see a lot of him in this game.
As for the UC return game, minus Hazelton on kickoffs, it would appear Darrin Williams will get a chance, or perhaps Marcus Barnett. Your punt return man is D.J. Woods and maybe this is the game he returns one to the house (as I've diligently predicted since his freshman year).
NOD: Here's hoping we don't see much of any of UC's kickers. Hazelton's a loss on the kick returns, but a door is now open for someone else to come forward and be recognized.
Again, no one would ever come out and use the words, but you have to feel UC is somewhat embarrassed over what happened last Saturday night. This is now the chance for everyone to take out their frustrations and win a game that ought to be a cakewalk. The Bearcat team that jumped to the early 14-0 lead in Fresno is more what we had hoped to see, the uncertainty of the second half is what you hope to never see again. Regardless of what happens, it's a work in progress and you'd rather be in disarray earlier in the year, than later. I suspect Bearcat fans will leave Saturday afternoon in better spirits.