No. 21 Cincy looks for fast start in Toledo
Munchie Legaux is tired of those sluggish starts.
The 21st-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats have become a second-half team, and it's not what they envisioned. The offense takes its time to find its stride behind the junior quarterback, allowing opponents to hang around until after halftime.
At Toledo (6-1) on Saturday night, that wouldn't be a good idea.
''We have to just come out and play with more intensity and energy in the first half,'' Legaux said. ''We can't come out with the slow starts we've had.''
The Bearcats (5-0) lead the Big East in yards and points, but not in making a good first-half impression. In the last two games, they let overmatched opponents hang around.
Cincinnati led Miami University only 24-14 at halftime before pulling away to a 52-14 win. The same thing happened against Fordham last Saturday, when the Bearcats scored touchdowns on all five second-half possessions for a 49-17 win.
Both of those games were played at home. Cincinnati will be facing a high-scoring team on Saturday night at Toledo's 26,000-seat Glass Bowl, a place where other big schools have showed up and gotten shocked.
The Rockets have beaten Colorado, Pittsburgh and Kansas at the Glass Bowl in recent years and are 4-1 at home against Top 25 teams.
''I give a lot of credit to our athletic director to be able to get some of the teams to come into our school,'' said Matt Campbell, in his first full season as head coach.
These Rockets are counting on the offense to keep up. Toledo has won its last six games by averaging more than 36 points per game. The Rockets are coming off a 50-35 win over Central Michigan and a 52-47 victory at Eastern Michigan, which had one ominous sign - the Rockets allowed 624 yards and a lot of big plays.
''We were too aggressive,'' Campbell said. ''We're kind of building this defense from the ground up. Sometimes when you do that, you've got to make sure you take it steady.''
The Rockets' young defenders were repeatedly caught out of position and seemed to lose their poise.
''We can't think too much,'' defensive tackle Elijah Jones said. ''We can't get overexcited.''
Cincinnati's defense has given up only 72 points all season and ranks 10th nationally, allowing 14.4 points per game. Still, coach Butch Jones thinks it can do a lot better.
''The biggest thing we need to improve on is the overall intensity, our mental energy with the way we approach every single snap,'' Jones said. ''We had too many missed tackles. In the first half, we didn't get off the field on the third down and had too many mental errors.''
The offense could help by getting into a rhythm before halftime for a change. The Bearcats have self-destructed with penalties, dropped passes and missed throws by Legaux.
''Against a team like this, every play counts,'' Legaux said. ''You don't want to take any drives off. You don't want to have three-and-out situations. You don't want to put your defense in tough situations. So we have to do a better job of completing drives - whether it's a field goal or touchdown - and keeping our defense out of bad positions.
''We're not going to take those guys lightly. They're going to get our `A' game.''
It's Toledo's last game outside the Mid-American Conference this season. For Cincinnati, it's the last game before getting back into Big East play with a game next Friday at Louisville, which has been picked to win the conference.
That's two tough road games in six days for Cincinnati, which doesn't have a week off the rest of the way.
''It's very critical,'' safety Drew Frey said. ''Every game we play, we're telling our team it's for a championship. We don't like to look forward, but it is a long stretch with no bye week.''
AP writer John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report.