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Tag:Cincinnati
Posted on: September 14, 2011 6:53 pm
 

SEC RapidReport Roundup, 9/14: Gators ready

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Running down everything you need to know from the week's news in the SEC, courtesy of our CBSSports.com RapidReporters.



FLORIDA. Just in time for the Gators to face their first opponent of 2011 with a definable pulse -- and judging by their comprehensive smackdown of Cincinnati, Tennessee has more than just a pulse at the moment -- Will Muschamp will have his most complete roster to date. Defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd will officially be in uniform after serving his NCAA-mandated two-game suspension, and running back Jeff Demps will be able to go after missing most of the Gators' drubbing of UAB with a shoulder problem.

"He's fine," Muschamp said of Demps. "He's playing. He's been practicing." The one question mark is backup linebacker Dee Finley, arrested earlier this week on multiple misdemeanor charges; Muschamp would not say whether Finley had been suspended or not.

TENNESSEE. On the other side of the rivalry, Derek Dooley has several nicked-up players -- including pivotal defensive back Prentiss Waggner -- practicing in non-contact jerseys, but only as a "precautionary" measure. For senior starting defensive end Ben Martin, though, even a precautionary non-contact jersey would be an improvement; an ankle injury means Dooley would "like to get 15 plays from him" but may have to keep him on the sideline entirely.

In other Vol lineup news, struggling freshman Justin Coleman is holding off senior Art Evans at starting corner ... for now. On the scheduling front, Tennessee will play third-year FCS program Georgia State in 2012.

AUBURN. Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator for Auburn Week 3 opponent Clemson, have something unusual in common besides their similar schemes: both came up through the high school coaching ranks. Malzahn hopes the matchup will help other teams look at high school coaches when filling out their staffs. "Hopefully, things like this will give more high school coaches opportunities that we've been fortunate enough to both have," Malzahn said.

The Tigers have been using as many as 12 defensive linemen and won't change those plans against Clemson, though redshirt freshman end Justin Delaine's season-ending knee injury may limit that number by one. True freshman kickoff returner Tre Mason is hoping Clemson kicks to him after Mississippi State began using squib kicks last week.

SOUTH CAROLINA. Despite the Gamecocks' 2-0 record, Steve Spurrier isn't thrilled with his team's defense. "We don’t look like we know what we are doing or we have some bad players, one or the other," he said. "I have been reading about all these great athletes we have on defense, but we don’t play great that’s for sure right now." He had similar comments for his wide receivers, who he said "are getting a lot of publicity, but need to start doing something." Wideouts other than Alshon Jeffery have combined for only five receptions so far this season.

Despite the Gamecocks' struggles in the passing game (on both sides of the ball), Spurrier said he won't be rotating Stephen Garcia with Connor Shaw. "The competition was over," Spurrier said. "[Garcia]’s got every opportunity to take us as far as he can because we firmly believe he’s our best quarterback on the team."

ELSEWHERE: Alabama senior wide receiver Darius Hanks will return for the Tide's meeting with North Texas after missing the first two weeks with a redshirting issue. "I don’t think his transition back will be a problem," Nick Saban said ... Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden is surprisingly already practicing again after his broken ankle was found to be only a hairline fracture. Bolden could see the field as early as this week ...

Mississippi State
head coach Dan Mullen says his players have practiced "angry" this week after last week's loss to Auburn. "They felt we should have won that football game," he said ... As for the Bulldogs' Thursday night opponent, LSU head coach Les Miles would not rule out backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger making an apparance after a successful debut against Northwestern State. "I would anticipate playing Jarrett Lee really start to finish," Miles said, but added "You just never can tell when you may turn to him and see if we can get a hot hand and go." Lee is nursing an ankle injury but should be fine against MSU ...

Starting Georgia safety Shawn Williams could get a look at inside linebacker after the position has been hard-hit by injuries ... Vanderbilt's surprising recruiting renaissance has continued with the commitment of a top-25 wide receiver from Minnesota.
Posted on: September 12, 2011 1:00 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 1:04 pm
 

SEC injury roundup: Another Georgia LB out

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

This Saturday was not kind to the SEC on the injury front. Here's the rundown.


GEORGIA. After the Week 1 injury to sophomore Alec Ogletree, there may not have been an area of the field where Georgia could less afford to sustain an injury than at inside linebacker. But that's exactly where they've sustained one all the same, as CBSSports.com RapidReporter Fletcher Page reported Sunday that junior Christian Robinson has injured his foot and will miss at least three games. Robinson leads the Bulldogs through two games with 22 tackles.

With former inside linebacker Richard Samuel now plying his trade at running back in the wake of the departures of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, the two ILB starters for this week's meeting against Coastal Carolina will be some combination of senior walk-on Jeremy Sulek, junior Mike Gilliard, and trure freshman Amarlo Herrera. The trio combined for four tackles against South Carolina, three of them belonging to Gilliard. Mark Richt won't admit it even if it is what he's planning, but with Isaiah Crowell shining at tailback, we could see Samuel moved back to linebacker this week.

There is some good injury news for the Dawgs; starting offensive lineman Kenarious Gates should be back on the field this week after missing the Garolina game with a sprained ankle.

ARKANSAS. Though he's not currently expected to miss the Razorbacks' Saturday matchup with Troy, starting quarterback Tyler Wilson did leave his team's rout of New Mexico with concussion-like symptoms. Bobby Petrino said that though Wilson had not (and as of now, has not) been diagnosed with a concussion, they weren't taking any chanes.

Wilson wasn't the only Hog to take a knock against the Lobos. Though not currently expected to miss any time going forward, receiver Jarius Wright and defensive end Jake Bequette -- both key members of the Razorbak starting lineup -- missed the second half after being "nicked up" with a knee and hamstring injury, respectively.

MISSISSIPPI STATE. Bulldog fans had to fear the worst when starting left tackle James Carmon was carted off the field in the second half of State's loss to Auburn. And Carmon will indeed likely miss at least this Thursday's huge home tilt against LSU. But the good news here for MSU far outweighs the bad: Carmon will not face surgery, and Dan Mullen said that fellow injured lineman Quentin Saulsberry should be able to play against the Bayou Bengals.

Given both Carmon's and Saulsberry's importance to the State line and how serious both injuries appeared to look Saturday -- Carmon's in particular -- we suspect those sighs of relief you're hearing right now are coming from Starkville.

FLORIDA. The Gators are ailing, but as things stand now, they should have nearly everyone aavailable for their SEC opener against Tennessee. Running back Jeff Demps left the UAB drubbing with a shoulder injury but "should be fine" according to Will Muschamp. Starting tight end Jordan Reed should also be able to overcome a hamstring problem, and junior corner Jeremy Brown may be able to return from a knee injury after missing two weeks.

ELSEWHERE: South Carolina true freshman running back Shon Carson sustained a serious knee injury and will be "out for a while," per Steve Spurrier ... Tennessee had a pair of lineman starters leave the Cincinnati game with injuries, but both could see the field against Florida anyway ... Still no timetable on the return of backup Ole Miss running back Enrique Davis. (Starter Brandon Bolden is, of course, out with a broken ankle. Fortunately, third-stringer Jeff Scott appears more than capable of filling in.).
Posted on: September 11, 2011 3:55 pm
Edited on: September 11, 2011 4:16 pm
 

SEC Poll Reactions, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the SEC fared, from the top of the polls to its bottom, and what it means.

ALABAMA/LSU. Entering this week, there was some expectation that a comprehensive performance from the Crimson Tide in Happy Valley might allow Alabama to retake the No. 2 slot in the media poll and consolidate their lead on the Bayou Bengals -- scheduled for what was little more than a light scrimmage against Northwestern State -- in the Coaches.

Thanks to getting that comprehensive performance, the Crimson Tide did indeed leapfrog the Tigers into No. 2 in both polls--but their margin for error in either balloting remains thinner than Nick Saban's patience for unforced mistakes. In the AP, Alabama has eight fewer first-place votes but a miniscule six-point lead all the same (1,422 to 1,416); in the Coaches, the margin is 38 points, less than half the gap between LSU and fourth-place Boise State.

Frankly, this is how it should be; both teams have decisive victories over quality opponents (though Oregon does look a good bit stronger than the Lions at the moment), both have overpowering defenses and a few offensive questions, and both spent one week dallying against lesser competition. If it looks like the pollsters are pslitting hairs at the moment, that's because those hairs ought to be split.

SOUTH CAROLINA. Interestingly, the team just ahead of the Gamecocks in each poll -- Virginia Tech -- happened to face the same team in Week 2 -- East Carolina -- Carolina had faced in Week 1. So between the Gamecocks' road victory over a desperate Georgia team and Tech's weaker performance against the Pirates, it's only fair that Steve Spurrier's team jumped the Hokies in both polls, going from No. 12 to No. 11. The Gamecocks are even within striking distance of the top 10 in the AP, sitting only five points back from Nebraska.

Too bad the Gamecocks won't have much of a chance to make an impression the next two weeks--they take on Navy and Vanderbilt.

ARKANSAS.
The Hogs blasted New Mexico, but given that the Lobos may not be much better than Arkansas's Week 1 FCS opponent Missouri State, there can't be any complaints out of Fayetteville about staying at No. 13 in the Coaches and No. 14 in the AP.

FLORIDA. The Gators blew past overmatched UAB in a second straight tune-up, but thanks to Mississippi State's loss and Ohio State's ineffective performance against Toledo, the Gators moved up anyway to No. 17 in the Coaches and No. 18 in the AP. That's a jump of four spots from the Gators preseason rank in each poll, just for beating the hapless Blazers and even-more-hapless FAU--sometimes scheduling cupcakes pays, apparently.

AUBURN. Weclome back to the AP poll, Tigers; Auburn's win over previous No. 16 Mississippi State has the defending national champions re-included at No. 21 in the AP and up three spots to No. 19 in the Coaches.

It's not a bad reward, but there's an argument to be made that the AP could do even more for the Tigers, though, and are still overreacting to the Week 1 escape against Utah State. After all, look at Florida--the media started the season with Auburn just one spot behind the Gators. Since then, Auburn has beaten two teams better than either of Florida's opponents--and now sit five spots behind the Gators.

MISSISSIPPI STATE. The Bulldogs can thank their New Year's Day Gator Bowl pounding of Michigan for just remaining in both polls this week, clinging to the No. 25 rung; without that emphatic victory, there's no doubt MSU doesn't enter this past week at No. 16/17, and (in turn) even less doubt they lose that top-25 spot. At this point, it's not like beating Memphis (47-3 losers to Arkansas State) should be worth anything in the voters' minds.

TENNESSEE. It's time for the voters to pay more attention to the Vols. After throttling a likely bowl team in Cincinnati, Tennessee has accomplished more in the win column and looked more impressive in doing so than, say, West Virginia, which beat Marshall in Week 1 and somehow trailed middle-of-the-road FCS program Norfolk State at halftime in Week 2. But the Mountaineers are ranked 20th in the Coaches and 18th in the AP, while the Vols limp along deep in the "Also Receiving Votes" category.

That's not to say the two teams should necessarily be switched; the young Vols still have a lot to prove. But there's no way the gap should be that wide given the results on the field.

Posted on: September 11, 2011 2:16 am
Edited on: September 11, 2011 2:20 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

1. Mark Richt is in deep, deep trouble. But he's not finished. It would be different if the Dawgs had lost Saturday the way they lost against Boise State, getting overwhelmed in the trenches and wilting in the second half. It would be different if Richt's team hadn't shown such drastic improvement from Week 1 to Week 2--not just on the scoreboard, but in everything from run blocking to tackling to special teams work. It would be different if Georgia hadn't had every opportunity to win the game Saturday. And most importantly, it would be different if the Dawgs were facing a different schedule.

But they are facing the schedule they're facing, which includes one tricky true road date (at Tennessee), the annual Cocktail Party showdown against Florida, two challenging home games against Auburn and Mississippi State ... and six other winnable games. Saving Richt's job won't be easy; we projected earlier it would take nine wins to do it, meaning Richt would have to go 3-1 in the games above and sweep the remaining six. 

But it's certainly possible. His team hasn't thrown in the towel. He has a star on his hands in Isaiah Crowell, who in the Dawgs' next big game we'll wager won't carry only 16 times. He has a quarterback who remains one of the SEC's best, despite his serious mistakes against the Gamecocks. He has a defense that only really gave up 27 points and should be even better against anyone who's not Marcus Lattimore. He's not dead yet.

2. Alabama is a national title contender. This is something we've had confirmed, rather than outright "learned," but there's no other way to look at the Tide's strangle job on the Nittany Lions. AJ McCarron wasn't impressive statistically (just 5.3 yards per attempt), but that "zero" in the interceptions column is really the only statistic that matters. Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy combined for 196 yards on the ground. And after generously allowing Penn State a first-quarter field goal, the Tide defense barely let the Lions breathe again until the game was entirely out of reach. 

Considering all of that was on the road against a quality Big Ten team, yes, the Tide deserve to be in the same breath with LSU and Oklahoma at the top of the polls until proven otherwise.

(A random aside: is it time for Lacy to start borrowing a few more of Richardson's carries? He's gotten only 19 attempts in two games to Richardson's 37, but boasts a per-carry average of 7.5 yards to Richardson's 3.8. Food for thought.)

3. Whatever else they are, Auburn is dangerous. Given that they share a division with the Tide, LSU and Arkansas, it's hard to see a team that's given up 979 yards in two games (one of them against Utah State) go on to win a division title. But focusing entirely on Auburn's defensive problems means missing the fact the Tigers have started the year with 83 points in those two games--42 in the first, 41 in the second. And that's before Gus Malzahn's attack has really put it all together, too. The run game sputtered in Week 1; the passing game was inconsistent in Week 2. 

Combine a potentially even more lethal offense with a much-improved special teams (led by freshman kickoff return weapon Tre Mason and redshirt frosh kicker Cody Parkey), and there may not be any single game on Auburn's schedule where they couldn't erupt for 40-45 points and win.

4. Speaking of dangerous: Tyler Bray is, too. That 5-of-30 performance in the Vols' spring game is far, far behind the sophomore now. Bray tore the visiting Cincinnati defense to pieces, completing 34 of his 41 passes for 405 yards, 4 touchdowns, and -- perhaps most importantly for a player whose coaches have occasionally accused of being too loose with his decision-making -- zero interceptions. Like Auburn, the Vol defense may not be strong enough to insert Bray's team alongside the Gamecocks and Gators in the SEC East race (the Bearcats ran for a whopping 6.4 yards on their 26 carries) ... but they might make things awfully interesting all the same.

5. Florida and Arkansas need to play someone. Full credit to the Gators and Hogs for dispatching lightweights UAB and New Mexico by a combined 88 points Saturday. But it's tough to know exactly how seriously to take either team playing cream-puff opponents like these or respective week 1 fodder FAU and Missouri State. (At least the Gators get serious next week against the Vols; the Hogs have to wait until a Week 4 showdown with the Tide.)

6. Vandy won't be an embarrassment. It remains to be seen how much headway they can make in the win column against their SEC slate, but that doesn't mean we should overlook that James Franklin's 'Dores already have as many wins in 2011 as they had in either 2009 or 2010. Thanks to a legitimately stingy defense that held UConn to fewer than 200 total yards, Vandy should be far more competitive than the 2010 squad that was outgained by 245 yards per SEC game.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:44 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:




Mike Bobo: do you know what you're doing with an up-tempo shotgun offense?  After rumblings from fall camp that Georgia would unveil a no-huddle spread offense gainst Boise State, the Bulldogs didn't quite go the full Dana Holgorsen ... but they definitely flirted with it, breaking away from their traditional pro-style I-formation look for a multitude of quick snaps, multi-receiver sets, and shotgun handoffs. The results were occasionally spectacular (see Brandon Boykin's 80-yard touchdown run) but more frequently sputterrific (see the other 25 rushes for all of 57 yards, or Boise's six sacks).

So why the change? "We wanted to get more plays, which we didn’t do on Saturday,” Bulldog coordinator Bobo said. “But we’re committed to doing it, and more plays equals more opportunities, and more chances to score.”

This is true, technically speaking. A faster tempo does lead to more possessions and plays packed into a game, and more scoring chances. But that's true for both teams, not just the one running the no-huddle; barring onside kick shenanigans or the occasional odd break at the end of a half, possessions in football are always going to be equal. For seasoned practitioners of the no-huddle like Holgorsen or Gus Malzahn, tempo is partially about giving their offense as many opportunities as possible, but it's also about making it more efficient by keeping an opposing defense off-balance and wearing it down over the course of 60 minutes.

Bobo is not one of those seasoned practitioners. As the Athens Banner-Herald points out, in 2010 Georgia ran fewer plays than any other team in the SEC. Suddenly lurching into a part-time, only-half-committed shotgun spread outfit seems from here to be a good way to neither execute that plan well nor the Bulldogs' traditional power-running and play-action bread-and-butter. One Georgia blogger has cleverly referred to Bobo's plan as the Cheesecake Factory offense--one that attempts to do everything, and in the end does none of it well enough to win.

Mark Richt, for what it's worth, is firmly on board with Bobo's approach. But if it doesn't pay far more dividends against South Carolina than it did against Boise (and if there's a bigger red flag than giving up six sacks to the Broncos the week before facing Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, we haven't seen it), Richt may pay for that support with an 0-2 start and the hottest seat in the country.



Auburn's defensive line: what can you do with Mississippi State? The surprising thing about Utah State's 84-play slice-and-dice job on the Tiger defense wasn't the 22-of-31 passing from true freshman Chuckie Keeton, or the resulting 13-of-20 mark for the Aggies on third- and fourth-down conversions; Ted Roof's Tiger teams have always had issues with a tight, controlled passing game like USU's. But they've also usually been stout enough against the run to make up for that Achilles heel -- Auburn led the SEC in rush defense last year -- making the true stunner the Aggies' 227 yards on the ground.

Unfortunately for Roof and the Tigers, things only get tougher this week. State boasts the league's best dual-threat quarterback in Chris Relf, a veteran line featuring three senior starters, Dan Mullen's tried-and-true option schemes, and one of the nation's most underrated tailbacks in Vick Ballard. Even Auburn is obviously a far cry from Memphis, but the 309 rushing yards and 8.1 yard per-carry average racked up by the Bulldogs in Week 1 still make for a hell of a warning shot across the bow of the Tiger front seven.

That front seven should get a boost with the return of suspended senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, and Roof's long track record of run-stuffing success suggests some level of improvement is due. But the Tiger front remains so young -- all four starting defensive linemen are sophomores -- that it will take a major, major leap forward for Auburn to avoid getting steamrolled. Are they up to it?



Alabama: is your offense good enough to stake a claim to No. 1? Maybe we'll be proven wrong about this. But the guess here is that despite the change of venue to Happy Valley, there won't be any more competitive drama in Saturday's Alabama-Penn State clash than there was in last year's 24-3 Tide throttling in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban's loaded roster of future pros dominated the Nittany Lions physically in nearly every aspect of the 2010 meeting, and that's not a problem we see Joe Paterno repairing in the space of one offseason.

Which means the burning question is one of degree: does the Tide offense have the chops to go on the road and put together a performance worthy of putting the team in the top-of-the-polls discussion? Underrated though Kent State's defense may be (10th in FBS total defense in 2010), the Tide still looked surprisingly sloppy on attack, despite the 48-7 final. The quarterbacks threw four interceptions; the offensive line missed a handful of assignments; the Tide receivers and quarterbacks put the ball on the ground four times.

Were those opening-week jitters ... or something more serious that might deprive the Tide of championships once the 2011 season is finished? A dominant performance against a Lion team with plenty of questions of its own in the front seven would go a long way towards affirming it was the former.

Also worth asking: Can Tennessee's Janzen Jackson-less secondary hold up against Cincinnati's lively passing game? (The league's most underrated Week 2 matchup could be decided here.) Can Vanderbilt  look like a real team another real team? (Despite their 45-14 win over FCS Elon, the 'Dores were outgained by 14 yards. Jury's well out.) Will Kentucky or Ole Miss show any signs of life on offense? (If the 'Cats and Rebels can't get better against Central Michigan and Southern Illinois, respectively, it's going to be a long season.)
Posted on: September 7, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Four games to watch for undefeated Big East

Posted by Chip Patterson

For the first time since the conference's formation in 1991, every Big East team won on the opening weekend of the college football season. A lot of teams in FBS AQ conferences choose the opening to schedule an FCS or inferior team to ease into the schedule, but rarely can a conference kick off the season undefeated.

A majority of the Big East slate was similar to that formula, but the conference's undefeated record occurred as a result of thrilling victories over an ACC opponent (Wake Forest)and a ranked Notre Dame squad. The conference has been defending themselves against national criticism all offseason after finishing 2010 with no teams ranked in the Top 25. Now heading into Week 2 the Big East's 8-0 conference record will be tested against a much more difficult slate. If Week 1 was a celebration of the Big East's promising future, Week 2 might be more of a reality check.

There are four games on the Big East schedule which will threaten/end the league's undefeated streak:

1) Cincinnati at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. Saturday - After an embarrassing 4-8 campaign in Butch Jones' first season, the Bearcats put on a show jumping out to a 41-0 halftime lead against Austin Peay. By the time the damage was done Cincinnati had more points than any FBS team, defeating their Ohio Valley Conference opponent 72-10. Traveling to Neyland Stadium to face the Vols will present a very different challenge, and possibly a different outcome for the Bearcats. Cincinnati's secondary was one of the worst in the nation a year ago, and they will quickly get one of their most difficult challenges on the schedule with Tyler Bray and the receiving duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. Don't be surprised to see a shootout in Knoxville here, but unless the Bearcats defense steps up and creates some turnovers I'd guess the Vols emerge victorious.

2) Rutgers at North Carolina, 12:30 p.m. Saturday - Last season the Scarlet Knights had a 10-0 lead over the winless Tar Heels before the Tar Heels battled back and eventually escaped New Jersey with a 17-13 win. But without Tom Savage under center to throw a late game interception, Scarlet Knights fans are hoping that Chas Dodd can exact revenge against their annual non-conference opponent. North Carolina also has a new quarterback this year in sophomore Bryn Renner. Renner set an ACC record in the Tar Heels' opener by completing 22 of his 23 passes, with an interception as his only incompletion. The Tar Heels offensive line kept Renner's jersey clean, and getting into the backfield will be a key for the Rutgers front line. The Scarlet Knights are not favored in this matchup, and a victory would be huge for another team trying to make up for an uncharacteristic 2010 season.

3) Florida International at Louisville, 7:00 p.m. Friday - FIU has been slowly climbing up the ranks of the Sun Belt Conference, and last season joined the perennially dominant Troy at the top of the final standings. All-purpose threat T.Y. Hilton will be a challenge to contain, especially after seeing Louisville give up 143 yards on the ground against Murray State. The Panthers will be hungry for the upset on the national stage Friday night, and the onus will be on the Louisville defense to match that speed and intensity for four quarters. On offense the Cardinals will have an advantage over the Panthers defense, but they cannot afford to turn the ball over four times like they did in the opener. This should be a very competitive game, and I would not be shocked if the Panthers pulled the upset.

4) Connecticut at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. Saturday - The Huskies still haven't decided on a starting quarterback, or even a two-quarterback rotation. Running back Lyle McCombs looked strong in the absence of projected starter DJ Shoemate, rushing for 141 yards and four touchdowns in the opener against Fordham. But Vanderbilt presents a very different caliber of opposition. That matchup will pit Commodores head coach James Franklin (former Maryland offensive coordinator) against his 2010 Maryland counterpart Don Brown, now the defensive coordinator at Connecticut. Franklin has stated that he's willing to take risks on offense, and Brown has been known for his aggressive blitzing schemes. While it certainly won't be a marquee matchup to steal headlines, this SEC-Big East showdown should at least be interesting for those involved. This game will probably come down until the fourth quarter, but I'm giving Vanderbilt the advantage due to Connecticut's uncertain personnel.
Posted on: September 4, 2011 2:57 am
Edited on: September 4, 2011 3:07 am
 

What I learned from the Big East (Sept. 3)

Posted by Chip Patterson

1) Connecticut finally has an answer at running back. Connecticut does not have a clear-cut answer for quarterback. That was obvious with head coach Paul Pasqualoni's use of Johnny McEntee, Michael Nebrich, and Scott McCummings during the Huskies opener against Fordham. However, the game might have answered the team's concerns about replacing 2010 Big East Player of the Year Jordan Todman. Senior transfer D.J. Shoemate was replaced last minute by redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs because Shoemate got "banged up" in practice late in the week.

The switch could end up having an effect on the Huskies season, because McCombs certainly looked like the best choice possible for starting tailback on Saturday. It was the first collegiate appearance for the Staten Island native, and he made the most of every opportunity. By the time all the damage was done McCombs racked up 141 yards on 24 carries with four touchdowns. Regardless of opponent, those are impressive numbers for anyone's NCAA debut. If McCombs can keep it up, Pasqualoni may have found a great building block for this new chapter of his seasoned career.

2) It's not always pretty, but the Orange get it done. Doug Marrone was celebrated by the Syracuse football community for returning to his alma mater and bringing them back to the postseason. The Orange's 8-win season was considered by many to be a sign of things to come for a once-storied program. However peeling back the shiny reviews of last season reveal a grimy, hard-nosed battle through the regular season. Syracuse simply found ways to win, and most of the time it was not pretty.

With only 20 letterman and over half of his defensive starters gone from that team, the gritty "find a way to win" style appears very much a part of Syracuse football. Wake Forest appeared to have Thursday's game won, and even fans in the Carrier Dome agreed and were heading for the exits as the Orange trailed by 15 points in the 4th quarter. But the fans that stayed got see Ryan Nassib and Antwon Bailey lead the Syracuse offense to 22 straight points in the final quarter + overtime to pull off the win over the visiting Demon Deacons. The Orange may have been slowly reversing the trend of their home struggles, but certainly not the one of winning ugly.

3) USF made a statement to the conference with upset of Notre Dame. Skip Holtz was forced to spend most of his time with the media this past week answering questions about playing at his alma mater and the school where his father spent 11 years as the head coach. But the story of the game ended up being mother nature, with two different delays due to storms in the area. But more than six hours after kickoff, a statement was made with South Florida's 23-20 victory over No. 16 Notre Dame. The Bulls, who have pulled off five straight 8+ win seasons, are ready to compete for a Bit East title.

The Fighting Irish had plenty of internal issues, including a mid-game quarterback switch during one of the delays, but USF showed up unintimidated and prepared. Holtz seemed excited about his defense heading into the season, and Saturday's performance legitimized his sentiments. The Bulls defense forced five Irish turnovers, and found a way to turn them into enough of a lead to secure a huge confidence-booster for a program looking to break through to the elite. Next for the Bulls will be three more non-conference games before kicking off the conference schedule with one of the most difficult challenges on the slate: a road test against Pittsburgh

4.) What the Dana Holgorsen era looks like at West Virginia. We will find this one out Sunday afternoon when the Mountaineers face in-state rival Marshall. Kickoff at 3:30 p.m., check back after the game because this is something we definitely want to learn.
Posted on: September 2, 2011 6:13 pm
Edited on: September 2, 2011 6:16 pm
 

Cincinnati LB calling for a shutout in opener

Posted by Chip Patterson

Cincinnati's defense was horrendous last year. The Bearcats gave up 369.4 yards and 28.0 points per game, finishing near the bottom of the conference in most defensive rankings. It was particularly frustrating considering the offense, led by All-Big East quarterback Zach Collaros was putting up 27.1 points per game and leading the conference. The defensive woes combined with a -15 turnover margin - faulting both sides of the ball - resulted in a 4-8 record for Butch Jones' first year at the helm and the first bowl-less postseason since 2005.

Improving both the defense and turnovers have been at the top of Cincinnati's list since the beginning of spring practice. With all 11 starters returning, the unit has reportedly used their experience to make great strides in the offseason and fall camp. After all the talk, it is now time for the unit to show results. Their first chance will be on Saturday against Austin Peay.

"We need to go out and get a shutout," senior linebacker JK Schaffer told reporters. "That's what we 're going for and that's our goal. I really don't want to settle for anything less. We have a lot of things to prove. The whole defense understands that."

Schaffer was an all-conference second team selection in 2010, and was named to the CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big East Team earlier this month. The senior middle linebacker is not only one of the few heralded individuals on the unit, but he is also expected to make his teammates better as they try to fix many of last season's mistakes. The players have spoken during the offseason about "a different attitude" and "buying in" to Butch Jones with one year in the can.

But the time for recycled football phrases is over as the Bearcats prepare for a new season. With Collaros, running back Isaiah Pead (1,063 yards, 6 TDs), and wide receiver DJ Woods (57 catches, 898 yards, 8 TDs) all returning, Cincinnati's offense should be able to put up comparable numbers to 2010. An improved defense should put Cincinnati in a position to make the postseason once again and possibly be a long-shot conference title contender. With a trip to Knoxville awaiting them in Week 2, Saturday would be a great time to make a statement.

A shutout, as Schaffer is suggesting, would be quite the statement. The Bearcats kick off against Austin Peay at 7 p.m. in Nippert Stadium.
 
 
 
 
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