Tuesday, October 08, 2002

UC's bowl chances rest with road performance


2-3 'Cats need five more wins to stay in hunt

By John Erardi, jerardi@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With his team 2-3 and the run defense against wide-open teams in need of shoring up, University of Cincinnati football coach Rick Minter isn't concerning himself with bowl hopes.

        UC, which lost 31-26 to Miami at Nippert Stadium last Saturday, must win five of its remaining eight regular-season games to be bowl-eligible.

        It's a tall order.

        It doesn't take an MIT mathematician to figure that even if you pencil in wins for the Bearcats in all of their three remaining home games (Memphis, Houston and Alabama-Birmingham), they still have to win two of the remaining five games at tough venues against good teams.

        At Tulane (Saturday): UC has played the Green Wave five times in the Louisiana Superdome, and has won there only once (in 1976). Overall, UC is 1-6 in New Orleans. Although Tulane is only 1-2 in C-USA, all three of those games were on the road. The Green Wave uses the spread offense, similar to that played by West Virginia and Miami, which shredded UC's run defense.

        At Southern Miss (Oct. 19): The Golden Eagles are 2-0 in C-USA and, along with Louisville, have the best defense in the league. The Bearcats have always matched up well with Southern Miss, which plays a Big Ten-style straightforward offense, but All-American running back Derrick Nix figures to give UC problems.

        At Louisville (Nov. 7): The Cardinals are 1-0 in the conference, of which they're the class. They've won the past two C-USA crowns, and showed how tough they are at home in a national TV victory over Florida State two weeks ago, led by big-time quarterback Dave Ragone.

        At Hawaii (Nov. 23): The Warriors are 17-12 on the island under head coach June Jones, including big victories over Oregon State, Fresno State and BYU. In their run-and-shoot offense, wide receiver Chad Owens is a star.

        At East Carolina (Dec. 6): The Pirates are 2-0 in C-USA. They're young, but talented, at the skilled positions, which means they figure to be much improved by the time UC faces them.

        All of this points to the following:

        Saturday's game at Tulane is critical for the Bearcats, and they have a solid chance. One wouldn't put the road games at conference powers Louisville and Southern Miss in that class. And if UC and East Carolina are fighting it out on the last day of the regular season for bowl eligibility, whose chances do you like?

        “The Tulane game is a huge game for UC,” said Brian Teeter, assistant commissioner of C-USA. “Tulane plays well at home — they're a good dome team on that fast-track turf. (Quarterback) J.P. Losman is a good player, having understudied Patrick Ramsey (the current Washington Redskins starting QB) for two years.”

        Casual fans might wonder how UC could play Ohio State so tough and then lose to Miami, but Minter has news for them: Spread offenses give UC trouble, and that's what makes defending Tulane such a challenge.

        “Ohio State makes no bones about it,” Minter said. “They run right at you. They are going to block down, kick you out, run power football. That doesn't mean (the other teams in the) Big Ten are going to defeat them. But (schematically), it's easier to defend.

        “West Virginia, Miami and now Tulane, they want to spread you out — stretch you, get you running, cut the ball up underneath you all the time. It's a different style. It shows where you're solid, and it shows where you might struggle a little bit, whether it be athletically or fundamentally. It has nothing to do with our kids being up one week or down the next. It's not lack of effort. But we've got to get better at what we're doing or we're going to find other people to do it.”

       



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