2006 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati

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Saturday, September 23rd, 2006, noon

TV: ESPNU

Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):

Click the “Blacksburg Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 2:00 pm Wednesday: Mostly cloudy with a 30 percent
chance of rain. Highs in the mid 70s.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/Cincinnati
roster card


Game Preview: #10 VT (3-0, 2-0 ACC) vs. Cincinnati (1-2)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

A few weeks ago, I quoted Jim Weaver and referred to Cincinnati as “an
equity conference opponent.” Then I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s a few
weeks later now, and I’m not making fun of the Big East, as they’ve pretty
much smacked the ACC around in most of the head-to-head meetings thus far. The
Hokies have a chance to save some face for the conference on Saturday when they
host the Bearcats.

Cincinnati is 1-2 on the season. They defeated Eastern Kentucky 31-0 on
opening weekend but have since suffered two consecutive losses. They lost to
Pittsburgh at home 33-15 and fell on the road 37-7 to #1 Ohio State last
weekend.

From a talent standpoint, Cincinnati resembles UNC more than any other team
the Hokies have played thus far. But they have one thing in common with each
team Virginia Tech has beaten … they have not beaten a D-1A team this season.

The last time Cincinnati came to Lane Stadium was back in 1995. The Bearcats
were 0-2, but they had lost two close games to Kansas (23-18) and Kansas State
(23-21). Both Kansas and Kansas State finished the season in the top 10, so the
Bearcats were more than capable that year, despite what Hokie fans would
remember. Cincinnati went on to finish the season 6-5, despite two close losses
against two top 10 teams to start the season. They were talented.

(Note: The Cincinnati loss that year really doesn’t phase me. The Hokies
were playing a solid team and were without Bryan Still and Ken Oxendine,
arguably their top two playmakers on offense. Not to mention the rain on a
Worsham Field turf that did not have a drainage system at that point. In
hindsight, the result wasn’t surprising. The BC loss bothers me more than
Cincy. The Eagles finished 4-7 that year. Okay, back to 2006.)

Fortunately for Virginia Tech, this Cincinnati team is not as good. If they
are, they have done a good job of fooling people so far. The Bearcats have lost
their last five games against D-1A teams and six of their last seven. Their only
win in that span came last year, a narrow 22-16 win over a very bad Syracuse
team.

The Cincinnati Offense

The Bearcats experimented with two quarterbacks early in the season, but they
appear to have settled on Dustin Grutza, who started last season. Grutza
struggled for much of last season but has slowly developed into an accurate,
efficient quarterback. He completed 65.3% of his passes over the last three
games of 2005. That efficiency has carried over into this year. He has completed
66.7% of his passes (48 of 72) this season for 552 yards.

Grutza is still prone to mistakes, though. He has thrown three touchdown
passes this season, but he has also tossed four interceptions in three games.
Last year he threw 11 interceptions to go along with 11 touchdowns, so he has a
habit of throwing picks, and that’s not a habit you want to bring into Lane
Stadium to face Torrian Gray’s secondary. The Hokies are tied for first in the
nation in interceptions with six.

Grutza has a lot of targets. 11 Cincinnati players have caught passes this
season. Their receiving corps is led by 6-1, 200 sophomore Dominick Goodman, who
has caught 13 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns this season. He is coming
off a solid true freshman season in which he finished second on the team in all
purpose yardage with 578.

Goodman had a tough game against Ohio State’s athletic secondary last week,
catching just one pass. He’ll need to do better against the Hokies if the
Bearcats hope to pull off the upset.

Grutza also likes to throw the ball to his tight end Brent Celek. Celek has
12 receptions for 146 yards on the season. He is a very good player, perhaps the
#2 tight end in the Big East behind Clark Harris of Rutgers. The Sporting News
ranks him the #13 tight end in the country. Virginia Tech will have to pay
special attention to Celek on Saturday.

The passing game has been pretty solid for Cincinnati so far, although Grutza
does need to clean up his turnovers. However, offensive line play has been very
poor for the Bearcats, which doesn’t bode well as they make the journey to
Blacksburg and prepare to face Virginia Tech’s outstanding front seven.

Cincinnati’s offensive line is very small by today’s standards. From left
to right, they weigh in at 290, 280, 287, 300 and 290. The Bearcats have two new
starters on the left side of the offensive line in r-freshman tackle Jeffrey
Linkenbach and JUCO guard Mario Duenas. Behind this offensive line, Cincinnati
is averaging just 1.8 yards per carry this season.

That number is skewed by the 12 sacks the offensive line has allowed. Ohio
State sacked Grutza eight times last week, and the Bearcats totaled (-4) yards
on the ground. Opponents have recorded 24 tackles for loss against Cincinnati’s
offensive line.

Cincinnati has three big backs that can run the football. Bradley Glatthaar
(5-11, 225) has 82 yards on 20 attempts this season, and he is currently the
team’s leading rusher. Greg Moore (6-2, 225) has 70 yards on 18 carries.
Butler Benton (6-1, 210) has carried the ball 20 times for 66 yards. As you can
see, the Bearcat running game isn’t much of a threat, although the backs can
be dangerous if they can run downhill.

Cincinnati has been a passing team for much of this season, for two reasons.
First and foremost, they have trailed in two of their games, and they have had
to throw the ball to try and come back. Number two, they simply aren’t very
good at running the ball, and they have to throw it if they want a chance to
win.

That doesn’t bode well coming into Lane Stadium. To beat the Hokies, the
Bearcats will have to be more balanced than they have been this season. They
need to get good offensive line play, in both run blocking and pass protection.
Judging by their performance against Ohio State last week (eight sacks allowed,
(-4) rushing yards), the offensive line will struggle again this week against a
similar Virginia Tech defense.

The offense will have to be helped by an opportunistic defense that forces
the Hokies into turnovers. They will not be able to drive the length of the
field on a consistent basis.

Here is a final look at how Cincinnati’s offense ranks on a national scale.

The Cincinnati Offense:
Passing Offense: 36th (out of 119 Division 1A teams)
Rushing Offense: 114th
Total Offense: 91st
Scoring Offense: 94th

The Cincinnati Defense

The Cincinnati defense is better than their offensive counterpart, although
they do lack size at several important positions. First let’s take a look at
the Bearcat defensive line.

Defensive end Trevor Anderson got the most hype of any Bearcat defensive
lineman heading into the season. As a freshman last year, he made 8.5 tackles
for loss, and some thought he would be a First Team All-Big East player this
year. He has 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks on the season.

The other defensive end, Anthony Hoke, leads the team with three tackles for
loss on the season. 2.5 came in the season opener against Eastern Kentucky. On
the inside, the top player is Terrill Byrd. Byrd started all 11 games as a true
freshman last season, and he has the potential to be a good player.

The weak spot on the defensive line is the other defensive tackle, Tony
Carvitti. Carvitti is listed at 6-0, 250 on the Cincinnati roster. In the
Cincinnati game notes, he is listed at 6-0, 235. Either way, he’s small for
any defensive line position, especially defensive tackle, and he does not match
up very well against Tech’s big offensive line. The Tech offensive linemen are
still gelling as a unit, but they are big and strong, and if the Hokie guards
get their hands inside you they are going to win the battle. This will be a
challenging day for Carvitti.

The
Battle in the Trenches
VT
Offensive Line
Cincinnati
Defensive Line

Player

Weight

Player

Weight
Brandon Frye 311 Anthony Hoke 245
Ryan Shuman 318 Terrill Byrd 285
Danny McGrath 290 Tony Carvitti 250
Sergio Render 320 Trevor Anderson 258
Duane Brown 290


Average
305.8

259.5

Virginia Tech has the obvious advantage from a size standpoint up front. They
need to take advantage of that and run the football, as they did against
Marshall last season. Marshall was very similar up front to Cincinnati in size.

Sophomore linebacker Corey Smith made 64 tackles last season and was tabbed
Second Team All-Big East in 2005, and he was also a freshman All-American. He
has 14 tackles on the season despite missing the opener against Eastern
Kentucky. The other two starting linebackers are seniors Kevin McCullough and
Leo Morgan. Morgan was just a spot player last season, recording three assisted
tackles in seven games.

The first thing that jumps out at you when looking at Cincinnati’s
defensive stats is that their top three tacklers are members of the secondary.
Cornerback John Bowie leads the team with 18 tackles, while safeties Dominic
Ross and Haruki Nakamura are tied for second with 15 each. That’s never a good
sign for the defense.

The best players in the secondary are Nakamura and cornerback Mike Mickens.
Mickens (6-0, 165) needs to fill out from a weight standpoint, but he is a good
player. As a true freshman in 2005, he was second in the nation in passes
defended. He was a Second Team All-Big East performer. He has broken up four
passes so far this season, including three against Pitt in the second week of
the season.

Nakamura already has one interception this season. He was the team’s
leading tackler in 2005 with 76 stops. I’ll say it again…it’s not a
good thing when a defensive back is your leading tackler.

Here is a look at how Cincinnati ranks in the defensive standings.

The Cincinnati Defense:

Passing Defense: 96th (out of 119 Division 1A teams)
Rushing Defense: 52nd
Total Defense: 79th
Scoring Defense: 72nd

Special Teams

The Hokies hold the advantage in special teams, as usual, but Cincinnati isn’t
terrible. They rank 21st nationally in kickoff returns (25.6 yards per return)
and 58th in punt returns (8 yards per return).

Kevin Lovell has been effective on kickoffs this season. Three of his 10
kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks, and he is averaging 61.8 yards per
kickoff. The average starting position for Cincinnati opponents following
kickoffs is the 23 yard line. Lovell has connected on his only field goal
attempt this season, from 34 yards. He was just 4 of 9 on field goal attempts
last season, but three of his five misses were from 45 or more yards.

Brian Steel is averaging 38.2 yards per punt on the season. Eight of his 23
punts have been fair caught, and he has placed 10 inside the 20 yard line.
Cincinnati’s punt coverage team has been good, allowing just six yards per
return, tied for 39th in the nation.

Conclusion

The most dangerous part of this game is that the Hokies could be looking
ahead to Georgia Tech. In fact, there were some comments after the Duke game
last week that could lead one to believe that they are looking ahead to
Georgia Tech.

Said QB Sean Glennon following the Duke win: “With Georgia Tech [Sept.
30] and Boston College coming up, we need to open up the playbook so in those
games it’s not our first time running them. We did that today, and, hopefully,
we’ll continue to do it.”

Subtle, but it’s surprising that he didn’t at least mention Cincinnati,
considering the fact that Tech players have had it drilled into their heads not
to overlook their opponents since the 1998 Temple loss.

That being said, it’s going to take a monumental flop of an effort for the
Hokies to lose this game. Virginia Tech will go into the Georgia Tech game with
their starting defense not having given up a touchdown all season.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Cincinnati 6

Will Stewart’s Take: Cincinnati has a combination that simply doesn’t
succeed in Lane Stadium: a poor rushing offense that gives up a lot of sacks and
has a QB that throws more interceptions than touchdowns. It’s hard to imagine
where Cincinnati’s points are going to come from. Likewise, the Bearcat defense
and special teams are nothing to write home about.

I don’t really think that Sean Glennon was overlooking Cincinnati in his
comments, so much as he was focusing on the ACC race. The Hokies are highly
unlikely to play for the national championship this year, so the focus is the
ACC, and that’s why Glennon didn’t mention the Bearcats in his Duke post-game
comments. That’s my take, anyway.

The Tech defense will be motivated by the opportunity to shut out another
opponent, the third one in four games, and that should keep them playing hard.
The Tech offense will be motivated by the need to keep improving and learning as
ACC challenges loom. It’s possible that the noon kickoff and the
out-of-conference nature of the game might make the Hokies a little flat early,
but like Ohio State last week, Tech will take care of business and win this one
easily, I think.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Cincinnati 3

2006 TSL Football Game Predictions
(Through Duke; Closest Prediction Highlighted)

Game
Chris’
Prediction
Will’s
Prediction
Phil’s
Projection

Result
N’Eastern 65-0 63-7 49-3 38-0
UNC 23-10 27-10 24-9 35-10
Duke 34-0 30-3 37-0 36-0

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