By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The defensive coaches at the University of Cincinnati didn't have any trouble deciding what to work on this week in preparation for today's game against Houston.
"Houston makes no bones about it," UC football coach Rick Minter said. "They like to line up and run the ball."
With Joffrey Reynolds in the backfield, that's pretty sound strategy. Last week against East Carolina, Reynolds, a 5-foot-10, 218-pound senior, rushed for a Conference USA-record 300 yards on 41 carries, breaking the previous mark of 282 set by UC's Daryl Royal against Miami in 1996.
Reynolds also scored four touchdowns in the Cougars' triple-overtime 54-48 loss. It was the fourth straight game in which Reynolds had rushed for at least 100 yards for Houston (4-5, 2-4 Conference USA) and the seventh time this season.
UC (4-5, 3-2) will attempt to climb back to the .500 mark for the first time since its Sept.21 loss to Ohio State. The Bearcats must win three of their remaining four games to become eligible for a bowl.
Game time is 1p.m. at Nippert Stadium.
On a Houston team that has trouble throwing the ball consistently, Reynolds is clearly the Cougars' most dangerous offensive threat. Last season, he gained 116 yards on 27 carries against UC in a game the Bearcats rallied to win 29-28.
"We have to control the line of scrimmage," senior outside linebacker Jason Hunt said. "He likes to cut back a lot. He's real quick and real elusive. But if we control the line of scrimmage and don't give him the cutback lanes, we'll stop him, no problem."
The Reynolds challenge comes at an opportune time for a UC defense that's at the top of its game. After being steamrolled for 523 yards by West Virginia on Sept.14, after which they ranked 106th nationally in total defense, the Bearcats have risen to 16th. In their last four games, they've allowed an average of only 215.5 yards a game, just 82 of it rushing.
Those numbers will be tested by a Cougars team that averages 194.1 rushing yards and 399.7 yards of total offense. But the Bearcats believe they have the speed on defense to counter Reynolds.
"He's a hard runner," sophomore defensive tackle Trent Cole said of Reynolds. "But he hasn't met a team with the defensive speed that can run as fast him."
Minter says this defense ranks among the best he has had at UC.
"We're more athletic and disciplined than what we have been," Minter said. "We're more on the same page. We're stopping the run this year. That's been a point of emphasis.
"And we're playing more guys on defense than we've played since '99 or maybe all the way back to '95."
With two straight wins after a 2-5 start, the UC players and coaches have reclaimed some of the confidence they had forfeited with losses to Tulane and Southern Miss. They believe they're headed back in the right direction, especially on defense.
"We're playing well together," Hunt said. "We're not missing tackles and we haven't been making mistakes."
Those are two attributes that will come in handy against Reynolds.
Houston at Cincinnati
Kickoff: 1 p.m. today, Nippert Stadium (35,000).
Records: Houston (4-5, 2-4 Conference USA), UC (4-5, 3-2).
TV: None live.
Radio: WLW-AM (700).
Series: Houston leads 13-7.
Line: UC by 14 1/2.
|UC|| Team stats|| HOU|
|398.9|| Offensive avg.|| 399.7|
|138.8|| Avg. by rush||194.1|
|260.1 ||Avg. by pass ||205.6|
|307.2 ||Defense avg. ||407.2|
|132.7|| Avg. by rush|| 134.3|
|174.5 ||Avg. by pass|| 272.9|
|27.9 ||Avg. points for ||29.4|
|24.7 ||Avg. pts. against|| 33.8 |
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