For those who haven't been paying close enough attention this week, I don't condone it, but here is a helpful cheat sheet so you can be an informed fan heading into Saturday's game against Syracuse.
Where: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, (turf, outdoors)
When: Saturday, noon, Local12/700WLW
Forecast: Temperature in 40s, no precipitation expected
2012 records: Bearcats 5-2, 1-1 Big East, Orange 4-4, 3-1
Ranking: Neither team is ranked, UC received votes in the Coaches Poll.
Tickets: Tickets are still available.
What to wear: This is a Ring of Red game.
Past results: Last meeting was a 30-13 victory last season in the Carrier Dome. UC owns a 7-5 lead in the series, but has won six of the last seven. UC opened up the playbook to involve Isaiah Pead more in Munchie Legaux's second start. It worked as Pead finished with nine receptions for 112 yards to go with his 17 rushes for 80.
Need to know: Tell me if this script sounds familiar. UC riding a two-game losing streak with concerns about Legaux. UC hopes to tinker with the game plan to alleviate pressure on the quarterback against a Syracuse team hovering around .500. Heard this before? That was last year. What happened next was the aforementioned 30-13 victory in the Carrier Dome. This time, UC hosts the Orange hoping to bust a two-game skid. Butch Jones referred to a "five-game playoff" this week and clearly all margin for error has been sapped out of this quest for a fourth Big East title in five seasons.
One more loss and its consolation prize time for the Bearcats.
Need to know stat: Last week USF ran for 369 (!) yards on the ground against Syracuse. Mobile QB B.J. Daniels used his legs to open up every aspect of the rushing attack to make the difference. Daniels rushed 12 times for 134 yards. That's a big reason to expect Jones to make good on his promise Legaux would use his legs more moving forward.
This was Syracuse's first run in during conference play with a true mobile QB and look how it changed the game. Here are their rushing defense stats in their four conference games.
Replicating the USF model certainly seems like the proper approach.
Who to know: Syracuse Senior QB Ryan Nassib. He leads the top passing offense in the conference. Only once this season has Nassib completed less than 60 percent of his passes and in conference play he's been as good as any point in his career. In four conference games his average stat line is 21 of 33 for 280 yards at 64.4 percent completion. He's thrown seven touchdowns to just three picks.
How to beat Nassib and, consequently, beat the Orange? Interceptions. In the team's four wins he's thrown nine TDs with one pick. In the team's four losses he's thrown eight touchdowns with seven interceptions.
Defining matchup: UC defensive pass rush vs. Syracuse line. The primary problem in allowing 416 yards to Teddy Bridgewater was the lack of pressure on Louisville's sophomore QB. Since Walter Stewart's absence began UC struggled to place pressure on the quarterback. Ends Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills must harass Nassib to force him into quick decisions and the decisive interceptions. They just didn't do that enough against Louisville and it proved the difference.
Delving deeper: Hidden yards played a major role in the game against Louisville. Had UC won in overtime it would have been a primary storyline. UC gained an average of 10 yards more per kickoff return and eight yards more per punt return. It totaled 91 hidden yards in UC's favor by the time all was said and done.
Syracuse struggles similarly in special teams. Outside of kickoff return coverage where they actually rank fifth in the nation, they are among the worst in the FBS in the major kicking categories.
They are dead last (124) in opponent punt return average. They are allowing an average of 20 yards per return and gave up a touchdown.
As for returning kickoffs themselves, they average less than 20 yards per return and rank 98th in the nation. Lacking a dynamic returner of their own and being gouged on their punt return team, that could be a hidden area where UC swings momentum.
By the numbers: The Bearcats offensive line allowed but one sack in the last four games.
Quotent Quotables: Butch Jones on expectations for his team bouncing back from a two-game losing streak compared to two years ago when the Bearcats finished 4-8 in his first season:
"Everyone says, 'How will your team respond?' Well if you're built right from the inside out, they will respond. Three years ago we weren't built right; no leadership, first year entitlement, but this year we are built right."
Looking Ahead: UC travels to Philadelphia to play conference newcomer Temple (3-4, 2-2) next week.
Words from Butch Jones: Tommy G sat down with Butch Jones on Bearcats Football Weekly to discuss Saturday's game and the state of the Bearcats. Here's the link.
Hype video: In case you hadn't seen this yet, it's the Fall season highlight video. See everybody on Saturday.