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October 1, 2008

On the Mark: Next Man In Philosophy Put to Test

UC Football Quarterback Depth Chart (Best Case Scenario 2008)

1)Ben Mauk - Denied his appeal 7000 times by the NCAA and then eventually in court. Has since moved on to play in the CFL.

2)Dustin Grutza- After being a classy teammate moving from the starting role to backup role Grutza gets his chance to start again, only to break his ankle in week 2 against Oklahoma.

3)Tony Pike- Uses his first opportunity to start as the Bearcat quarterback to put up incredibly efficient passing numbers…then of course he breaks left arm.

4)Zach Collaros
5)Chazz Anderson
6)Demetrius Jones

Clearly this is not the year to be quarterback for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Dan Hoard made a great comparison in his weekly column we says playing QB for the Bearcats is becoming more and more like being the drummer for Spinal Tap, bad things just keep happening.

I think the best news we have heard recently is that Tony Pike will be back for the Connecticut game. I have been incredibly impressed with Pike in his two starts and think with his accuracy UC has a chance to do some great things this season. Though it may have appeared otherwise against Akron, the strength of this Bearcat team is its receivers and tight ends. UC has a ton of skill and depth at these positions. Pike's ability to deliver passes on target all over the field was going to really play to the strengths of this particular Bearcat team. With Pike out of the lineup for the next two weeks the question that I keep thinking about is what will the Bearcat offense look like this Friday at Marshall?

In reality we all know very little about what Collaros, Anderson and Jones are going to do on the football field. In his brief action against Akron Collaros did not look completely comfortable in the pocket. He made a nice throw to Gilyard that should have been caught for a first down and made a huge scramble to get UC to the 30 and in realistic field goal range for kicking the game winner.

During the spring game I felt like Collaros made some very nice throws, but I also came away very impressed by Jones who seems to have completely gone under the radar and sits behind both Collaros and Anderson. I do not know who is going to start for the Bearcats this Friday (though it apparently will not be Jones), but knowing that the Bearcats will be getting Tony Pike back for the UCONN game I think the QB the Bearcats go with should fit these criteria:

1) The quarterback who continually makes the best decisions. The Bearcats are a significantly better team than Marshall and Rutgers. If their quarterback makes good decisions and avoids making negative plays (turnovers) the Bearcats most likely will win these games. If there are turnovers who knows what could happen.

2) The quarterback who can get the receivers the ball in position to make plays. Wide receiver is the position which the Bearcats really have an advantage over other teams. They had too many drops and two bad fumbles against Akron, but for the most part the UC wide receivers have been great this year and last year. They get a ton of separation from the defensive backs trying to cover them, they often make great catches, and consistently get yards after the catch…really UC has about everything you could ask for from their receivers. If UC's quarterbacks can get the ball in their hands they will be successful.

3) The quarterback who can do something else to help you win. This one is probably the vaguest criteria. Ben Mauk was incredible at avoiding pressure and buying time to get receivers open. Dustin Grutza was a big time scrambler. Tony Pike has great size and a big arm giving him an opportunity to make all of the throws. What can our other quarterbacks do?

We have already seen hints of that with Zach. He is a good runner. Maybe they run a few more zone read plays with Zach in the game. Making the quarterback a legitimate threat to run could open things up for the running backs. If that is the case maybe you add a little more speed and get Pead in the game. Pead's explosiveness, combined with the threat of a running quarterback could open up the field for some explosive running plays. If the coaches see something else the quarterbacks can do to gain an advantage that could be important for these two games.

If UC's quarterback does those things we should get to the UCONN game 5-1, once that happens we will be right back in position to win the conference. I thought there were a few other important developments against Akron. Perhaps the most important thing I saw was the makings of a good pass rush. I thought the entire forth quarter when the Bearcats needed their defense to step up, the defensive line got pressure on Akron. Over the past several years Bearcat fans have had the privilege of watching defensive lineman like Antwan Peek, Andre Frazier, Trent Cole, Mike Wright, Trevor Anderson, Anthony Hoke, and DeAngelo Craig. In some ways we may have been spoiled, but I think Curtis Young could be next in the line of stellar Bearcat defensive lineman. He was quick off the line and really put pressure on the offensive lineman charged with blocking him. He looked out of position on some of the misdirection, but I am very excited about what I see from him. The Bearcats did a good job mixing their lineman against Akron. I think the defense took several steps in the right direction that game (though the linebackers still struggle against covering dump offs).

I was also encouraged by the continued success of Jake Rodgers. Rodgers nailed a clutch 48 yard field goal to put the Bearcats ahead in the forth quarter. That kick could have been good from much further. I have always been amazed by the leg strength Rodgers has shown and excited about the possibilities he could bring to the Bearcats. One only has to remember the early struggles of Jonathan Ruffin to understand that kickers can take some time to get comfortable out there. Rodgers has an NFL type leg. His leg should help us in field position and will hopefully add a great dynamic to our kicking game. It is only one kick, but hopefully his success can continue.

And finally this week, in honor of Peter King, here are some things I think about the Bearcats from the Akron game and moving forward.

1) I think the coolest moment of the game was when Kevin Huber pinned the Zips back at the 5 yard line, but UC had an illegal formation penalty so he had to move back 5 yards and punt again. He promptly put the ball on the five yard line again. Kevin Huber is a luxury few colleges have and one I really enjoy watching (though lets keep him off the field as often as possible).

2) I think Marcus Barnett better get his act together. He is an unbelievable talent, but the Bearcats are not short on talented receivers. We need players who are going to be consistent. Marcus can be as good as anyone on UC's team, but to date he has not lived up to his performance from last season.

3) I think I am surprised it took this long for UC to really struggle in an out of conference game against an inferior opponent with Brian Kelly as head coach. I think it helps that Kelly is both aggressive and unpredictable on offense making it harder on opponents to commit to taking one aspect of the Bearcat offense away. Still, UC's tendency to commit a ton of penalties really does kill drives on offense and keep drives alive for other teams. UC could have put Akron away early without those penalties instead Akron was in the game until the end. Unless the Bearcats correct this it will come back to bite them some day.

4) There were a few drives I kept turning to the people around me asking where Terrell Byrd was and it was not because he was getting pushed around, it was because he was not on the field. These were not 1 or 2 play stretches I noticed but what seemed like drive long stretches. Terrell has got to be in someone's doghouse. Byrd is an absolute animal at his best…the Bearcats need him to be there.

5) I am not concerned about Pead losing his redshirt status. Maybe in NCAA Football 2008 I'd have played it different and saved some eligibility, but this is a guy we may want to use more throughout this season and who will certainly play a role on this team next year. The Bearcats need to get him involved in live game situations whenever they can so he is ready to be effective.

6) I think I was incredibly pleased with the amount of fans the Bearcats brought to the worst stadium in the history of college athletics. That place was abysmal. At least the tailgating was fun. There are plenty of road games in driving distance this year continuing this Friday at Marshall… I hope I continue to see Bearcat fandom well represented.

7) I think I am two Bearcat wins against Marshall and Rutgers away from being driven to going out to Connecticut to see the Bearcats try to earn their way back into the top 25. I would like to attend every game in the continental United States… UCONN is the only one I do not have a firm commitment on (If anyone wants to find me an all expense paid trip to Hawaii…you know… get it done).

8) The Bearcat cornerbacks are really good. I thought DeAngelo Smith was the best player on the field against Akron. Mickens had a ton of pass breakups and Underwood is a super athlete. Once we start getting the consistent pressure on the quarterback the Bearcats will start getting turnovers in bunches. I predict we see that happen this week against Marshall. I think we get 4 interceptions with one going to the house.

9) And the reason I think that is I believe the pass rush is about to turn the corner. I think the defense is hungry. I think they know that with all the issues at quarterback it is their time to shine. The Bearcats have been blending in a bunch of new guys so far this season, by now they are more comfortable…more ready to go. I think we see that in a big way this weekend at Marshall.




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