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Kelly relishes 'winner-take-all' environment



Dec. 2, 2009

By Bo Jessee

University of Cincinnati football coach Brian Kelly held his weekly press conference Tuesday and talked about a variety of topics including Pittsburgh's defensive line and balanced offense, injuries and dealing with speculation about the Notre Dame coaching vacancy.

The game Saturday will be televised nationally on ABC at noon. Sean McDonough will serve as the play-by-play man, Matt Millen will be the analyst and Holly Rowe will work the sidelines.

The winner of Saturday's game will earn the Big East's automatic BCS bowl bid. It is the first time in the history of the Big East that the league's top two teams will play each other with the conference championship on the line in the last week of the season.

Kelly compared the upcoming game against Pittsburgh to coaching in the Division II playoffs at Grand Valley State.

"One of the things I loved about being in Division II is that the playoffs are single elimination and there is nothing that gets you more focused or more excited than being in this kind of environment," Kelly said. "There is just more excitement when you come down to a winner-take-all situation. There's a buzz around everything you do."

Kelly said he hasn't talked to his players about the Notre Dame speculation, calling it irrelevant.

"We are in lockdown mode," Kelly said. "We haven't been working for anything else but to win a championship. Everybody associated with this football program is 100 percent focused on Pittsburgh."

Kelly also stated he hasn't been in contact with anyone from Notre Dame.

Saturday's game will feature the key matchup between the Bearcats' passing offense, which ranks first in the nation in passing efficiency and fifth in fewest sacks allowed, and Pittsburgh's defense, which ranks first in the nation in sacks.

Kelly called Pittsburgh's defensive line the best front four that UC has faced this season. The Panthers have six players with at least four sacks and defensive end Greg Romeus leads the team with eight sacks. The Bearcats have surrendered just nine sacks in 11 games.



Pittsburgh's balanced attack on offense makes them a much different team from last season according to Kelly. While Pittsburgh is still a run-oriented offense, quarterback Bill Stull looks to push the ball vertically downfield to sophomore receiver Jonathan Baldwin when they get favorable matchups.

Kelly said he is worried about the 6-foot-5-inch Baldwin getting one-on-one matchups with his corners. Baldwin averages 20.1 yards per reception and has posted six games with 100-plus receiving yards.

Kelly referred to Pittsburgh's freshman running back, Dion Lewis, as a bigger version of Oregon State's Jacquizz Rogers, who the Bearcats faced Sept. 19. Lewis has rushed for 1,446 yards this season and has rushed for more than 100 yards in six consecutive games.

According to Kelly, the difference this season with Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Stull has been his confidence. Stull has thrown for 19 touchdowns with only six interceptions compared to last season where he had just nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Kelly blamed some of his defense's recent struggles on the style of offense that his team plays. The Bearcats score quickly and because of that, Cincinnati is ranked dead last in time of possession among teams in the Bowl Subdivision. The Bearcats possess the ball for an average of just 26:03 per game.

"We are not helping our defense in that situation," Kelly said. "Our defense is called on to do a lot more than they should under these circumstances."

Kelly said the playing surface at Heinz Field will not affect his team's strategy on offense.

"It's good old fashioned grass," Kelly said. "Our guys played pretty fast down at South Florida and that was on grass."

To prepare for the sellout crowd his team will face at Heinz Field, Kelly said they were going to pump artificial noise into Nippert Stadium during practice Tuesday.

After running the ball just 12 times against Illinois, Kelly said his team would not try to force the running game against Pittsburgh. "I've got Tony Pike and I've got Mardy Gilyard and neither of them is a running back so they are going to be active in the game," Kelly said.

Kelly said senior running back Jacob Ramsey, who is recovering from a mid-foot sprain, looked good Monday and is expected to be an important part of the game plan Saturday.

Redshirt freshman safety Drew Frey sustained a concussion in the game against Illinois, but is expected to play Saturday.

"He passed his concussion test today," Kelly said. "He ran around yesterday - he has to go through an exertion mode relative to the testing - and had no headaches. We expect him to be cleared for practice today."

Kelly said Pike did not have any complications from his injured non-throwing arm against Illinois.

"He felt great," Kelly said. "He took a couple hits. We ran him once just to make sure we got that out of the way. I didn't want to come into Pittsburgh with it being the first time that he ran. He was feeling good and confident in all phases."