Assessing the UC offense over the first half of the season unveils a group as productive and efficient as any in Butch Jones' six years as a head coach.
They average more yards per game and yards per play by a wide margin. Even among the Cincinnati offensive renaissance teams this group leads the way. None of the UC teams since 2007 averaged more yards per game in non-conference play than this group.
Following the loss to Toledo, fingers begin pointing and knees begin jerking. Change this. Alter that.
Perhaps tweaks need to be made and those won't be evident until the Bearcats take the field Friday night against Louisville.
The base philosophy driving the most efficient offense in recent UC and Butch Jones history won't change, though. Balance always wins out.
Statistics illustrate one of the most successful run games in the country right now. Ralph David Abernathy IV (6.6 yards per carry), George Winn (6.3) and Munchie Legaux (6.0) all have become explosive threats on the ground.
UC's yards per rush average (5.9) ranks sixth in the FBS. Their total rushing yards per game (226) ranks 16th in the FBS. An identity sought after coming out of Higher Ground with this collection of young unknowns showed its hand during non-conference play with the triple threat on the ground and ability of the offensive line to wear teams down.
Without balance, though, the effectiveness of the run game would be lessened.
"We preach balance in everything we do," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "We emphasize efficiency in all aspects of our game. Guys have stepped up like George Winn and Ralph David and the offensive line. For sure, you want to be balanced as much as possible and you want to control the ball."
The versatility of players like Abernathy IV and tight end Travis Kelce keep defenses off-balance because of their versatility. Kelce can split out as a wide receiver and win one-on-one matchups with corners because of his size while also push the pile in a power set attached to the tackle. Abernathy can split out into a five-wide as a dangerous player in space or run between the tackles for a 5-yard gain. One shift changes the defense's philosophy.
UC's ability to both run and pass allows them to take what the defense gives. That's why they've accumulated more yards per game than any in recent UC history.
At Louisville, their players expect to see plenty of the Bearcats run game considering the Cardinals gave up at least 195 yards rushing two of the last three games and the inconsistency Legaux showed at times this season.
Keep in mind UC rushed and passed for 12 touchdowns a piece this year. A focus on the run will leave advantageous matchups on the flip side.
The Bearcats haven't been a run-it-down-their-throats team and still racked up conference-best numbers on the ground. Making teams honestly defend all corners of the field makes the difference.
"Honestly, I notice we put up a lot of yards every game but I never notice that we are really running the ball at people like that," Abernathy IV said. "I've never really took notice to it. We also have great receivers like (Kenbrell Thompkins) who goes off in the Virginia Tech game. I have never really caught on to the fact of how much we've really run the ball I just know we get a lot of yards."
Doing so again Friday could be the most direct path to victory. Yet, doing so at the expense of the pass-game threat could take away the effectiveness of both.
Of course, Legaux will need to rebound from the struggles he endured at Toledo. The focus of practice continues to be allowing receivers to quickly transform into ball carriers with ball placement and recognizing the variety of looks Louisville will bring. The rest will be up to Legaux to manage the balance.
His confidence clearly hasn't wavered nor has that of his teammates.
"We still have that trust in Munchie, we still have that trust in everybody on our team," Abernathy said. "Our trust never wavers, regardless. We are a family."
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