Let's take a look at five matchups UC needs to win in order to beat Louisville tonight.
UC RT Sean Hooey vs. Louisville pass rush:
There's no secret to the resurgence of the Cincinnati offense. When the offensive line started to play better and Isaiah Pead returned, the Bearcats reverted to the explosive form of last year and what everyone expected this season.
A major aspect of that change was the swap of now RT Alex Hoffman and now RG CJ Cobb. Well, Hoffman will not play this week after suffering an injury against Miami. Hooey will take his place on the edge and must step up to control a UL pass rush that leads the Big East. Their 3.65 sacks per game is third nationally. It should be noted half of their 18 sacks came against Eastern Kentucky, but there's no denying they are rushing the passer much better than in the past.
You have to imagine Charlie Strong will be bringing his pass rushing linebacker Daniel Brown and emerging DE Rodney Gnat around Hooey's edge to test him. Brown had two sacks against Arkansas State and Gnat leads the team.
If Hooey can hold his own, it will free up the entire UC offense to break big plays downfield to Armon Binns and DJ Woods.
Louisville RB Bilal Powell vs. UC run defense:
Powell makes Louisville go. That will be especially true without RB Vic Anderson. He's the only weapon that truly strikes fear into the heart of the defensive coordinator. Powell's ranked 8th in the nation with 137.8 rush yards a game. He broke two TDs of longer than 70 yards.
Of course, Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray put fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators, but UC's stout rush defense held him to one of the least effective days of his career.
The Bearcats currnetly are ranked 8th in the country in rush defense.
The combination of Maalik Bomar and JK Schaffer attacking the gaps held open by Derek Wolfe and company up front has been difficult to beat.
Stop Powell. Stop the UL offense. Period.
Adam Froman threw an interception in every game, except for last week against lowly Memphis. In two losses against Kentucky and Oregon State, his completion percentage was under 60 percent with just one total TD pass.
Forcing Froman to beat them would be playing to the Cards weakness.
UC RB Isaiah Pead vs. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez:
Yeah, that's right. The Bearcats aren't playing Nebraska, but Martinez holds the current lead for yards per rush at 10.8. No. 2 is Pead at 9.8 yards. The spread is all about explosive plays --- Butch Jones' spread thrives off of explosive plays in the running game.
If Pead can continue to keep up with Martinez's 10.8 yards a rush and break a few long runs, it will put Louisville's defense in a bad way trying to figure out how to stop the UC offense with Pead running free.
And, honestly, I can't think of many defenses that could stop UC if Pead runs with the explosiveness he did against Miami.
UC vs. quick start:
The common thread through both of Louisville's losses this season have been slow starts. They fell behind 20-6 against Kentucky in the first half and then were down 34-14 to Oregon State early in the third quarter.
UC asserted itself early last week against Miami in its strongest showing of the year. The Bearcats need to get off to a quick start and early lead in order to force Louisville into a more pass-oriented attack. From that point on, it would just be a matter of containing Froman and holding off the Cards surge.
UC secondary vs. Louisville WRs:
The knock on the UC defense has been its young secondary. They appear to be getting better each week, but are still extremely inexperienced, particularly at corner.
Top UL WR Doug Beaumont is questionable, but even if he doesn't play WR Josh Bellamy has been solid in his absence. Bellamy caught two TD passes against Memphis and has 15 receptions on the year.
The emergence of Reuben Johnson and Cammeron Cheatham at the corners may end up telling the tale to whether UC can win the Big East and that begins tonight against the Cards.