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.

The numbers

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.

“We’d be

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.

One possible

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.