No. 8 Cincinnati can’t get offense on field
By JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — One of the nation’s most potent offenses is spending way too much time on the bench.
Eighth-ranked Cincinnati knows exactly what it has to fix during its
bye week, which comes at a good time for its injury-depleted defense.
The Bearcats (5-0) have to figure out how to get that battered defense
off the field so Tony Pike and company can get back to putting up huge
Until then, the defending Big East champions will remain badly unbalanced.
“We’ve got to go back in this bye week and look at how we can get more possessions for our offense,” coach Brian Kelly said.
The last two games, that’s been a problem.
The defensive secondary was so depleted by injury that Kelly moved
receiver Marcus Barnett to starting cornerback against Fresno State,
which likes to run the ball and throw deep. The Bearcats dropped back
in pass defense, forcing the Bulldogs to run.
The result: Cincinnati’s offense was on the field for only 16 minutes
and scored a season-low 28 points in a 28-20 win. Miami (Ohio) followed
the same ball-control strategy last week, allowing the Bearcats’
offense to get on the field for only 19 minutes in a 37-13 win that was
close until the fourth quarter.
are wildly out of whack in the last two games. The Bearcats have run
103 plays to their opponents’ 166. They’ve had the ball for 35 minutes,
while their opponents’ offenses were on the field for 85 minutes.
Part of the problem is that Cincinnati’s offense scores so fast —
Cincinnati’s 10 scoring drives in those games averaged 1:52; only one
drive lasted as long as three minutes. Pike pointed out that the
defense gave up only 33 points in the last two games even though it was
on the field a long time.
concerned if our defense was out there struggling, but as you can see
the last two weeks, they’ve bowed up when they needed to and they’re
continuing to make plays,” Pike said. “On offense, we’re going to come
out when we get the possessions and make the most out of it.”
The Bearcats don’t need much time to put up big numbers. They lead the
Big East in scoring (42 points), total yards (468) and yards passing
(330) per game, all despite being last in the league in time of
possession at 23:52 per game.
solution to getting those clock numbers in balance would be to run the
ball more often, keeping the offense on the field a little longer.
Kelly would rather let Pike run the no-huddle offense at full speed,
the pace where it tends to be most effective.
The other option? Put the onus on the defense to do a better job of
stopping opponents. Fresno State and Miami converted 19 of 38
third-down plays, sustaining drives that kept Pike on the bench.
“We’ve got some very good players on offense and can score points,”
Kelly said. “We’ve got to get off the field (defensively) on third
down. I guess one way would be to slow down the scoring drives, but I’d
rather just score quickly.”
So, much of
the focus this week will be on getting those injured defenders healthy
and looking at some strategic changes on those third-down plays.
“Twenty-one of 38 is what we’re giving up,” Kelly said. “That’s a
ridiculously high amount of third-down conversions. We’ve got to get
off the darn field on third down. We’ve got to get better on third
down. Some of it is we’ve got a lot of young guys running around out
there, but you know what? They’re going to be there all year.”
The Bearcats lost 10 senior starters from the defense that helped them
win their first Big East title last season, and injuries have depleted
the replacements. Five of their starters against Miami were freshmen or
“They might drive the ball on
us a little bit, but we’re going to bow up and do our best to stop
them,” sophomore linebacker J.K. Schaffer said. “It shows you the
toughness of our defense.”
It needs to get
a lot tougher now that the Bearcats are going back into the Big East
part of their schedule. They opened with a 47-15 win at Rutgers, then
played four nonconference games. The next game matches two of the Big
East’s contenders — they play at 5-0 South Florida next Thursday.
“This bye week will get us into the mindset that we’ve got to get
better if we want to win a Big East championship,” Kelly said.