After the two-hour drive home from Louisville at 2 a.m. on Friday, I woke up a little groggy at a time I won't share with my judgmental readership still with my head swirling over what I witnessed Friday night.
Not because of the loss or any one play, but at the entertainment value of it all. With the loss removed, what we witnessed were the two flagship programs in the Big East conference in a year their difference in talent level appears negligible fighting through ugly weather conditions with more momentum swings than the Kings Island Viking Ship.
Even through the typical Twitter vitriol clogging my feed from the conclusion of the game through Saturday afternoon, another residing theme poked through the dark clouds --- these guys are going to be all right.
What we witnessed Friday was a team capable of beating the best in the Big East. Not just capable, but arguably the better team. At the very least, on par with Louisville. On a wild night in their place, they left one play away.
Now, they enter the rest of the Big East schedule where the margin for error is non-existent. While far from impossible Louisville could lose before facing Rutgers in their season finale -- this is the Big East, obviously, the conference is as predictably unpredictable as the final destination of your luggage on a Delta flight.
Take a look at the remaining schedule:
Opponent (Overall, Big East)
Syracuse (4-4, 3-1)
@Temple (3-4, 2-2)
Rutgers (7-1, 4-0)
USF (2-6, 0-3)
@UConn (3-5, 0-4)
The two toughest games are Syracuse and Rutgers, both coming at Nippert Stadium.
The combined record in conference of the other three teams: 2-9. And those two wins came from a Temple team that was just throttled, 47-17, at Pitt.
All games in which the Bearcats will be favored and/or playing at Nippert. Clearly, the Rutgers tilt will loom large, but a run to 6-1 would be far from improbable.
Louisville, on the other hand, still owns a tricky trip to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse and then their season finale at Rutgers. One loss and the race re-opens.
Since 2006, only the 2009 Bearcats finished with an undefeated conference record and only twice did the conference champion endure only one loss ('06 Louisville, '08 UC).
Invariably, the Bearcats concerns right now lie in-house. They are a team needing to break this two-game skid against Syracuse, whose losses this year came to Northwestern, USC, at Minnesota and Rutgers. And they've been in every game they played.
While the Louisville loss shifted momentum and power dramatically to the Cardinals, to expect the rest of the year to play out predictably in a Louisville coronation would be discounting all recent history of this conference.
--- The UC running game has become the storyline of this season. George Winn, Ralph David Abernathy IV and Munchie Legaux are all averaging exactly 6.0 yards per rush.
Only one other school in the FBS can claim three different ball-carriers averaging at least six: Oregon (Kenjon Barner 6.9, De'Anthony Thomas 8.6, Marcus Mariota 6.6).
Certainly, the UC backs deserve a significant amount of credit for all they've done, but we'd all be remiss if this conversation didn't start with an offensive line just owning people right now. The most encouraging aspect for UC? All five current starters will be back next season. Parker Ehinger seized the right tackle job with a Sean Hooey injury and we've yet to see Hooey back. He was the only senior up front.
The ratio of run/pass against Louisville came out about 60-40. For a game within a possession much of the night, that shows more than a coincidental stat. That shows an identity. When I asked if that was the way he sees his offense moving forward, Jones essentially confirmed that will continue to be the case.
"I thought we ran the ball pretty well; I thought establishing the tempo was critical," Jones said. "I thought we did a much better job with playing tempo. I think we did a much better job that way and need to continue to play at that tempo."
Jones hasn't been afraid to utilize the run this season, but typically any disparity between run and pass comes in blowout wins that end with running out the clock on the ground.
Throwing out the games against FCS teams and the 52-14 blowout of Miami, you see the upward trend in run/pass ratio.
--- Many of the rushes to flip the percentage against Pitt came in the final two drives with the game all but over. UC ran the ball the final eight plays of that game to run clock. Taking that into consideration you see the percentage rise consistently as the season progresses.
--- In my story last week about balance still being the calling card of this offense, RDAIV had this quote that I found interesting.
"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."
Nobody could say that after the Louisville game. This wasn't just about running the ball more for the sake of running the ball more, this was about running the ball in critical situations and establishing that as the primary weapon.
They ran it at Louisville. All indications are that won't be changing anytime soon.
--- Have you not read my postgame column from Louisville? Have you not seen the video of Maalik Bomar and Munchie Legaux speaking after the game? If so, I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed. But you can totally redeem yourself by going here and catching up.
--- Time to take notice of what Greg Blair is doing at MLB. The tackle stat may be the most overrated in all of college football and doesn't necessarily reflect effectiveness. However, 33 tackles in two games does.
He now ranks 16th in the country in tackles per game (10.43).
Blair followed up his 14-tackle game against Toledo with 19 against Louisville and the guy was everywhere. He ended up on the Big East Honor Roll -- along with RDAIV.
For a team worried about how they would replace Mr. Cincinnati JK Schaffer, Blair's erased any concerns about the middle of the defense. Blair was in a mix at second on the depth chart coming out of spring. That's quite a rise.
--- We are all witnesses to #MACtion. One week after Toledo knocked off UC, Kent State went to Rutgers and handed the previously-undefeated Scarlet Knights their lunch, 35-23. It can happen to anybody, folks.
The MAC and Big East split eight games this year, 4-4.
It changes the national perception of Rutgers, though, they'll still be a handful here in a few weeks with the best rush defense in the conference.
--- Andrea Adelson kept UC at No. 3 in her power rankings, with this week's opponent, Syracuse, right behind them.
--- Links that will bring the most outrage from my readership: Great story from Joe Reedy on Kerry and Brayden Coombs father-son football connection.
Also, Brian Kelly is doing the same thing at ND he did at UC -- what nobody thought possible. At some point you have to tip your hat (or, I guess, you don't).
--- The basketball season officially gets underway tonight. UC will host Grand Valley State in their exhibition opener at Fifth Third Arena. As I've mentioned in this space multiple times, this will be as entertaining and anticipated as a season of basketball has been at UC in more than a decade.
Loved talking to Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker last week about what to expect this year.
First off, we asked Cash about being left off the CBSSports.com list of the Top 50 point guards. I exposed the injustice last week here.
He took a higher road than myself when asked if he was surprised:
"Nope. People were tweeting me about it and I was looking at it like, wow. Why is it a big deal? It's like coach (Cronin) told me, 'the only award that matters is at the end of the season.' So, all of the people that are getting preseason awards basically are getting a big bullseye on their back. And I'm one of those people that is targeting them. So, basically it's fair game."
With all this this talk about polls and disrespect for UC, I asked Mick if there was any poll or ranking he does pay attention to. I found his answer, as always, honest and enlightening:
"That stuff only matters for fans and for ticket sales, so that is why it can be irritating at times. I think our fans are excited if I got a gauge for how things are and they should be about our season. If you are not busy next Monday, you are going to have fun watching us play. And (rankings and polls) are also for recruiting."
SK and Cash both talked about this on my podcast with them during the offseason -- if you really want to bubble up some excitement, re-rack that session here -- they feel they both can go home for their biggest moments this year. SK being a NY guy and Cash from Georgia, they can win a Big East title at the Garden and hit the Final Four in the ATL.
"I want to go to Atlanta. That's my aim. I have a chance to end my career in my home state, so it's kind of a big thing. Sean (Kilpatrick) wants to go to the BIG EAST Tournament and actually win it this year in New York. So, we have two goals."
The up-and-down style of play will be the most noticeable difference to fans tonight. There will be no slow-down, post-up set offense slogging this season. It will be all run-and-gun. Cash pulled out this gem when asked if there was any chance we see some of the slow-down game from the beginning of last year.
"I hope not," Cash said. "I tell you what, if we see that, it's a bad season goin' on."
Couldn't help but laugh out loud after that one.
The first exhibition game always brings out the excitement. Not sure if we'll see new 7-1 toy David Nyarsuk whose been nursing a minor injury, but you'll see plenty of everyone else. Cronin plans on using everyone -- not just for the exhibition, but as the season goes along. He'll need to in order to wear teams down with the Blitz.
"Once the other team score you got one second to take the ball out and get it going," Wright said. "There is no more take the ball out and walk up and down the floor. You got one second to get the ball out the next to the point guard and get down the floor. He calls it Blitz. We are supposed to be able to beat them down the floor even if they score."
Hope to see everyone at 53 tonight.
--- How about some randomness ...
--- I liked it better when we could blame Yoko for breaking up the Beatles.
--- When I lived in Key West at least twice per year the Weather Channel and its band of terror-inducing meteorologists would descend upon the island to strike fear into everyone. There would -- as predictably as the storm missing the island -- be looney tunes time going on by locals behind them. Sandy has proven it wasn't just a Key West thing with shirtless horsehead man.
--- I can only assume the person who drove their car through the front window of a Blockbuster was a tortured husband in a desperate, frantic rush to get "What to Expect When You Are Expecting" out of his possession.
--- NBC Sports now owns the rights to the English Premier League for all you soccer folks out there. Also, the best thing on TV in the mornings, The Dan Patrick Show, will be moving to the network as well starting next Monday.
In related news, only two days away from the Big East TV rights hitting the open market.
--- Big fan of Rob Gronkowski's TD celebration in England.
--- Busy week ahead, need to start it with some energy. Which means Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Remember, if you have any questions, comments, criticisms or just need a friend, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. I want to hear from you. Have a great day, everybody.