Heard it From Hoard: Column 91
Next year when Brian Kelly and his wife Paqui hold one of their University of Cincinnati Women's Football 101 clinics, they should begin with the following quiz:
Which of these two teams should win?
Team A: Ran 84 offensive plays, rushed for 290 yards, and held the ball for 43:42.
Team B: Ran 42 offensive plays, rushed for 57 yards, and held the ball for 16:18.
Cincinnati was "Team B" on Saturday and still managed to beat a good Fresno State team 28-20.
While the Bearcat fans I encountered after the game were happy with the win, the big concern was UC's inability to stop the run.
Admittedly, allowing 290 yards on 57 carries is alarming, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
For starters, Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews is a stud. The nation's leading rusher going into the game finished with 145 yards on 38 carries, meaning that UC actually held him 4 yards below his weekly average. Cincinnati will not face a better running back during the regular season.
Secondly, UC's defensive strategy was to take away the big play. Mathews entered the game with four TD runs of 60-or-more yards, and the Bulldogs had four receivers averaging more than 15 yards per catch. With cornerbacks Dominique Battle and Chris Williams out with injuries, Marcus Barnett moved to defense, and the coaches weren't going to leave him isolated in many one-on-one situations.
"Both teams conducted the game in a manner that was going to slow everything down," head coach Brian Kelly told us on the postgame show. "First of all, they knew that they had to limit our possessions offensively so they were going to run the football. We were going to double up their receivers - we had to start a wide receiver in Marcus Barnett at corner, so we were double zoning on the outside. Our fans didn't know it, but I knew it was going to be one of those games where we were going to have to grind it out and get to the fourth quarter."
After scoring on three of their first four possessions to take a 21-10 lead in the second quarter, Cincinnati couldn't get its offense back on the field. Going into the fourth quarter, Fresno State had controlled the ball for nearly 23 of the previous 24 minutes. But the Bearcats still held the lead, 21-17, and Coach Kelly has never lost a game at UC when leading going into the 4th quarter.
"We're 25-0 when we lead going into the 4th quarter and that says a lot about our resolve and grit," Kelly said. "We knew it was going to be this kind of football game. We have a lot of respect for Fresno State and what Pat Hill has done and that's a really good football team."
And while the Cincinnati defense didn't shine, two big plays in the fourth quarter saved the day - Craig Carey's interception inside the 10 yard line and Aaron Webster's deflection on Fresno State's final offensive play with less than a minute to go.
"It's about individuals making plays," Kelly said. "Craig needs to make that play because our linebacker got caught inside and he came up huge. Web uncharacteristically missed a couple of tackles earlier in that drive and I told him, 'You owe us one.' And he came up with the big hit on fourth down to jar the ball loose."
That allowed the Bearcats to win despite stats that could have spelled disaster.
"It would be nice to control the ball a little more, but the way the games are unfolding, it doesn't seem like that's going to be the case this year," Kelly told us after the game. "We were not going to give up big plays even if it meant giving up possessions and I was OK with that. They put it in the score column as a 'W' and we move on to the next game."
That's Football 101.
I'd love to hear from you. The address is email@example.com
Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad.