As I (Mr. Know-it-all) was writing last week, the MOST important game in UC’s football season is this Saturday vs. Syracuse.
All along, I’ve said that I wasn’t so much worried about Pitt as I was about Syracuse.And that was BEFORE the Orange(men) knocked off Notre Dame in South Bend last weekend. My reasons were this, after four hard fought Big East contests in a row—South Florida, West Virginia, Louisville and Pitt—Syracuse might well be the proverbial “trap game”.
I’m still concerned. I think UC will prevail, but I’m still concerned. Reason being was the lack of focus on and off the field in the waning moments of the Pitt game.That game was a UC blowout and should’ve been 28-14 at the very least.
Instead I saw everyone dreaming of “oranges and sugar” and jumping to the “House of Pain” well before the clock reached triple zeroes. I saw Pitt hook up on a bomb down the middle while the sidelines and crowd was nearly oblivious to “live” play going on.“We’re going to the Orange Bowl!Miami baby!South Beach!” was all I was hearing as I was watching the “end of the West Virginia game revisited” unfold on the field. Folks were too busy slapping each other on the back to realize a game was still going on.Then, as we saw at the end, non-football personnel were on the field while a football play was still in progress. While, it’s questionable as to whether or not Pitt was in proper position to run a play, the ball was flipping around the field and visions of Cal/Stanford and other such finishes were going thru my head.
Hey, I’m not against a victory cigar, goalposts coming down or the thrill of victory, but I’ve seen weird things happen in games and if you ever get too far ahead of yourself, you can be in for a rude awakening. Ask Kentucky fans that were hanging on the goalpost at Commonwealth Stadium thinking the Big Blue had upset LSU.Imagine how stupid the Wildcat students felt as LSU ran back the kickoff to win the game. Or, in Bearcat basketball perspective, some of you my age may remember Miles Simon of Arizona throwing in a full-court prayer, or Charles Williams dribbling off his foot allowing Xavier’s Lenny Brown a chance to knock down a shot. Personally, I remember a UC/West Virginia NCAA game where D’Juan Baker hit a “3” to put the Bearcats up with seven seconds left.The people at the party I was at started celebrating, hugging and kissing and refilling their drinks. All the while, I told everyone there were SEVEN seconds left—an eternity in a NCAA tournament game.Sure enough, some dude named Jarrod West comes down and throws up a 40-footer that Ruben Patterson deflects, and it banks in! I was so mad I gathered up my wife and kids and left the party without saying a word to anyone.I was also so mad, that I left one of my four children at the party and didn’t realize it ‘til I had made the half-hour drive home. I sent the wife back after him. Anyway, all of that went thru my head at the end of the UC/Pitt football game.I want a BCS game as much as anyone, but there is some actual logic in that saying some of us were brought up with…”don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” To get the Orange, you have to beat the Orange!(Unless of course Pitt beats West Virginia Friday—then we can all watch casually Saturday) Lecture over—now the match-up.
WHEN:Saturday, November 29th, High Noon (give or take a few minutes for the obligatory TV delay) WHERE:Nippert Stadium “Home of the Converted” SERIES:All knotted up—4 apiece LAST TIME:UC won at the Carrier Dome 52-31 November 24, 2007
UC OFFENSE VS. SYRACUSE DEFENSE UC should have all the confidence in the world with Tony Pike coming off of his best game ever (26-32, 309 yards for 3 TD’s).Pike ran around like Bret Farve and connected consistently with WR’s Dominick Goodman, Mardy Gilyard and the finally reincarnated “Bones” Barnett.Those three rate right up with any three receivers in the country when they’re playing at the level they were against Pitt.Ideally, you’d like more on the ground from Ramsey and Goebel, but if Pike can play like he did in the “Ring of Red” game, UC’s going to be in the “red” zone more often than not.This is a defense that’s been lit up for 42 by Akron, 55 by Penn State, 34 by Pitt, 45 by USF, 35 by Rutgers, and 39 by UConn.I would think the Bearcats could light up the toteboard for 30 or more at home.Jake Flaherty is the Orange’s stopper on defense at MLB, although DE Arthur Jones had a huge game against Notre Dame with a career-high 15 tackles.
NOD:Particularly if the BCS bid is still in question at kickoff, expect Pike and the Bearcats to roll.I wouldn’t be surprised to see an inspired effort in the running game.
UC DEFENSE VS. SYRACUSE OFFENSE Andrew Robinson torched the Bearcats for 419 yards and 3 TD’s last year and he’s NOT EVEN the starting QB for Syracuse anymore.That honor goes to Adrian Dantley’s son Cam, who beat his Pop’s alma mater last week 24-23 on a late scoring pass to Donte Davis.At Notre Dame, the ‘Cuse didn’t merely just fling the ball around as Dantley only thru for 122 yards.Syracuse played more of a traditional Orange game with true frosh Antwon Bailey racking up 126 yards on the ground.I’m not sure if that will fly at Nippert Saturday afternoon though as UC’s done a tremendous job stopping the run in the last few games.Outside of one run, they held down USF’s Matt Grothe.They kept Pat White and Noel Devine in check at WVU; Victor Anderson at Louisville; and (for the most part) LaSean McCoy of Pitt.So, I would think Syracuse would have to throw the ball to be successful and if Brandon Underwood keeps playing like he has, along with D’Angelo Smith—it won’t be easy to heave it downfield.Mike Mickens has a dinged up knee, I’d be shocked to see him prior to the bowl game.
NOD:While a Pitt-like performance from the crowd would be most useful, I still don’t see how the ‘Cuse can roll up yards on a team playing for a BCS bid.
SPECIAL TEAMS Jake Rogers is in a slump.More than ever, he needs a field goal situation where he blows the ball thru the uprights as fans cheer.This is more important for games to come than it is in this particular game.With a confident kicker, Brian Kelly might’ve added six more points in the fourth quarter last weekend and the game would’ve been out of reach.Also, Kevin Huber didn’t have his best game.Hopefully, the weather’s more conducive to kicking and the ball won’t feel like kicking a concrete block come Saturday.Syracuse has punter in Rob Long that puts up Huber-like numbers.If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see a lot of him on the field.You don’t want to see much of K Patrick Shadle; he’s only missed three field goals and has a long of 53 on the year.
NOD:UC’s booters need a boost.Based on recent performance, I have to go with Syracuse here.
THROW IT OUT AND SEE WHERE IT STICKS Greg Robinson of Syracuse has been fired.He was a bad hire in the first place and Syracuse has had its problems from Robinson on up.However, (current) players appear to like Robinson and this is his last game.Greg Robinson has nothing to lose. On the other hand, UC has everything to lose.If this game is dropped, all the guts and glory that made the headlines in the Pitt win is lost.This is such a trap game that it should be sponsored by “Bass Pro Outlet”. The fortunate thing for the Bearcats might be the fact that Syracuse DID beat Notre Dame.If that doesn’t get your attention, I’m not sure what will.Also, after a dress rehearsal for the Orange and/or Sugar Bowl, this is a chance to finish the job.The team that played the first 55 minutes last Saturday night WILL NOT be beat.But, the team that went thru the motions over the final 5:00 just might be.