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- Time: 3:30pm
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Virginia Tech has one more non-conference warmup before starting the meat of their ACC schedule. They take on Cincinnati this weekend, and in case you missed it, the Bearcats seem pretty good.
There’s no question that Cincinnati will be confident heading into DC. They went 10-3 last season. They smashed a Pitt team that easily beat Virginia Tech. They have tons of seniors on the defensive side of the ball. I can guarantee you that the Cincinnati players are every bit as confident as the Virginia Tech players, if not more.
The Cincinnati Offense
Rushing offense: 12th nationally
Passing offense: 89th nationally
Total offense: 34th nationally
Pass Eff.: 46th nationally
Scoring offense: 63rd nationally
Sacks allowed: 42nd nationally
The Cincinnati offense put up big plays against Pitt in their opening game, though they failed to move the ball consistently. They struggled for much of their 23-7 win over Delaware State. Though the pieces are there to challenge the pressure points of a defense, the consistency hasn’t been there as of yet.
With the type of offense the Bearcats run, and the type of player they have under center, they remind me quite a bit of the Michigan Wolverines. They are capable of running the same types of plays out of the same formations.
Munchie Legaux (6-5, 199, Jr.) is a New Orleans native who threw for two touchdowns and rushed for 117 yards in the season opener against Pitt. He is a long strider, and he probably has a stronger arm than his counterpart at Michigan. However, both players have carried many of the same question marks: can he pass? For Robinson, the answer is an emphatic “no”. For Munchie Legaux, the jury is still out.
2011: In 2011, Legaux completed just 47.4% of his passes for 749 yards, with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
2012: So far this season, Legaux had a good opener against Pitt, though he only completed 50% of his passes in that game. He followed that up by throwing two interceptions against Delaware State, and he also fumbled twice in that game.
Legaux is a very dangerous player. I think he’s similar to what Ike Whitaker would have looked like for Virginia Tech had he ever been the starting quarterback. However, he’s got a long ways to go as a passer at this point in his career.
The best player (so far) that Cincinnati puts on the field on offense is running back George Winn (5-11, 202, r-Sr.). Winn never did much before the 2012 season, but he carried the ball for 95 yards on 11 carries against Pitt, and then followed that up with 147 yards against Delaware State. He is a bruising inside runner, he hits the hole quickly, and he’s got the straight ahead speed and acceleration to break off big gains.
Winn isn’t a household name because he spent so many years behind Isaiah Pead, who is now a rookie with the St. Louis Rams. I believe Winn definitely has a shot to be a 1,000 yard rusher for the Bearcats this season.
R.D. Abernathy (5-7, 168, So.) is one of the smallest players Virginia Tech will face this season. The backup tailback has 12 carries for 60 yards, but he also leads Cincinnati in receiving with seven receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns. He caught both of his touchdowns on screen passes against Pitt, so the Hokies must watch out for Abernathy in the open field.
Anthony McClung (6-0, 172, Jr.) is Cincinnati’s leading returning receiver. He caught 49 passes for 683 yards and six touchdowns in 2011, and as 2012 moves forward I expect him to become Cincinnati’s most reliable receiver yet again. He has been a major part of the offense since his true freshman season.
Kenbrell Thompson (6-1, 190, Sr.) caught 49 passes for 536 yards and a touchdown last season, and I expect him to be a big threat as the season goes on, along with McClung. Joining those guys at wide receiver are Damon Julian (6-2, 210, Sr.), who caught four passes for 62 yards against Delaware State, and Alex Chisum (6-3, 187, So.), who played very well for the Bearcats as a true freshman last season.
Cincinnati has a very experienced tight end in Travis Kelce (6-6, 260, r-Sr.). He caught 13 passes a year ago, and he’s been part of the regular playing rotation since his r-freshman season.
Up front, the Bearcats look like this:
LT Eric Lefeld (6-6, 287, r-So.): Backup last year, 13 games played
LG Austen Bujnoch (6-5, 285, r-Jr.): 13 starts last year
C Dan Sprague (6-3, 283, r-Jr.): played in 5 games last year
RG Sam Longo (6-5, 286, r-Jr.): transfer from Ohio State, 1st year starter
RT Sean Hooey (6-9, 295, Sr.): 6 starts last year before being hurt
Bujnoch and Hooey are returning starters, and Lefeld has some experience. However, it’s not the experience factor that I’m looking at; it’s the type of offensive line.
Virginia Tech struggles with huge, physical offensive lines that line up in power formations and smack you right in the mouth. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is huge and strong, and they smacked Tech in the mouth. Cincinnati’s line is much different. They like lighter offensive linemen who move their feet well, and who are good fits for a spread attack. That is the type of offensive line that Virginia Tech typically excels against.
With the exception of the Georgia Tech game, the VT defensive line has not lived up to expectations or potential this year. As we enter the fifth game of the season, it’s time for them to take it up a notch against an offensive line that they match up well against.
The Cincinnati Defense
The Cincinnati defense isn’t particularly big up front, but they are quick, and they pride themselves on making plays in the defensive backfield. Through two games against Pittsburgh and Delaware State, the Bearcats rank #8 nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 8.5 per game. They are even better at sacks, ranking #5 in the country while averaging 4.0 per game.
That’s obviously not a great sign for Virginia Tech, whose offensive line has struggled to keep even mediocre defensive lines out of the backfield throughout the years. Let’s take a quick glimpse at the guys the Hokies will have to block up front this week.
DE Walter Stewart (6-5, 249, r-Sr.): One of the best defensive linemen in the Big East, Stewart could be the best defensive linemen that the Hokies have faced so far this year. He is definitely the most athletic. He’s projected as a mid-round pick in April’s draft. He has 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
DT Adam Dempsey (6-2, 271, Sr.): Dempsey is Cincinnati’s weak link up front. Despite being a senior, he has only played in four career games, including the two this season.
NT John Williams (6-0, 283, r-Sr.): The transfer from Central Michigan had 1.5 sacks against Pitt in his Cincinnati debut. Tech’s guards and centers will need to be aware of the quickness of Williams.
DE Dan Giordano (6-4, 260, r-Sr.): Giordano has been in the playing rotation since he was a r-freshman. He and Stewart combine to form one of the most experienced defensive end tandems in the country.
The Bearcats also have some quality depth on the defensive line in the form of defensive end Brandon Mills (5-11, 240, r-Sr.) and defensive tackle Jordan Stepp (6-1, 268, r-Jr.). Both guys have a lot of snaps under their best for their career, and though they don’t have ideal size for their respective positions, they make plays in the backfield.
At linebacker, Greg Blair (6-2, 252, Sr.) leads the charge from his spot in the middle of the defense. Blair has 17 tackles and an interception through two games. He’s a JUCO who played in only one game a season ago. He’s still inexperienced, playing only three 1-A football games in his career, but he’s anchored the middle of a solid Cincinnati defense.
Weakside linebacker Maalik Bomar (6-2, 228, Sr.) is the most experienced linebacker on the team. He has 13 tackles through the first two games of the season. Soloman Tentman (6-2, 228, So.) got experience on special teams a year ago, and we could potentially see him on the field splitting time with Bomar against the Hokies.
The strongside linebacker is Nick Temple (5-10, 219, So.). He is undersized, but he started eight games as a true freshman last year, and could be the top playmaker of all the linebackers. He is from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, home of Darren Evans and Kris Harley. Tech gave Temple a long look, but never offered.
The Bearcats have solid speed up front, but Virginia Tech is fully capable of running the ball against them. Ray Graham of Pitt put up 103 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry in the process. Malcolm Williams of Delaware State had 120 yards on 20 carries. Both of those guys are smaller, quicker backs.
I think Virginia Tech should use J.C. Coleman on outside zones, attacking the edges of the defense at an angle. I don’t think last week’s outside pitches will work all that well, but a power running game with handoffs off the tackle will give Coleman the opportunity to find some space on the edge, as well as give the Tech offensive line a chance to play physically.
The Bearcats also have a lot of experienced players in their secondary. They will use a nickel formation, depending on the offensive personnel on the field. When Cincinnati goes nickel, look for Chris Williams (5-11, 190, Sr.) to enter the game. He’s an experienced player who is good up around the line of scrimmage. He had 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks a year ago, so don’t be surprised to see him blitzing from his nickel spot.
At corner, Deven Drane (5-11, 186, Jr.) mans the boundary side, with Camerron Cheatham (5-9, 187, r-Sr.) playing field corner. Drane is a solid player who broke up nine passes and recorded three interceptions a year ago. Look for him to be matched up on the short side of the field with Marcus Davis on some occasions. Davis will need to be able to win these one-on-one battles for the Tech passing game to have success. Cheatham is the most experienced corner. He also had three interceptions a year ago.
Arryn Chenault (6-0, 207, Jr.) starts at free safety, with Drew Frey (6-3, 212, r-Sr.) starting on the short side. Chenault is a hometown Cincinnati player, while Frey is a sixth year senior with a lot of starts and snaps under his belt.
Here are Cincinnati’s defensive numbers:
Rushing Defense: #39 nationally
Pass Defense: #53 nationally
Pass Eff. Defense: #26 nationally
Total Defense: #38 nationally
Scoring Defense: #3 nationally
Tackles for loss: #8 nationally
Sacks: #5 nationally
Those are pretty good numbers, and they do have speed on defense. However, they are still attackable. They allowed 415 yards of total offense to Pitt, and the Panthers made two trips inside the Bearcat 5 yard line in which they failed to score a single point. They gave up 120 yards to a 175-lbs 1-AA running back. They are a good group, but if the Hokies play with an attitude up front, and their receivers make the proper decisions in the passing game, Tech should be able to move the football.
However, as we’ve seen so far this year, both of those are big “ifs”.
Here’s a quick look at the Cincinnati special teams.
Field goals: Tony Miliano (6-2, 186, r-So.) is a perfect 3-of-3 on the season, with a long 46 yards. He was very good last year as a r-freshman, making 17-of-25 kicks.
Punting: Pitt is #113 nationally in net punting and #97 in punt return yardage defense, while Kyshoen Jarrett leads the nation in punt returns. Cincinnati is #24 in punt return average (Anthony McClung is averaging 16.4 yards per return), but Virginia Tech is #23 in punt return yardage defense. Keep an eye on the punting game in this matchup.
Kickoff returns: Cincinnati ranks #8 in the country in kickoff return yardage. R.D. Abernathy is averaging 31.3 yards per return. Virginia Tech is #20 in kickoff return yardage defense.
Cincinnati also starts a young player at long snapper, Kirk Willis (6-2, 227, r-Fr.). Frank Beamer could elect to bring pressure – or fake bringing pressure – in an effort to make Williams mess up a snap.
Yes, Cincinnati whipped Pitt, and Pitt whipped Virginia Tech. But as we know, Pitt only had a few days to prepare for that Thursday night road game. They were sluggish after taking no days off. Cincinnati was fresh, excited to play their season opener, and they had a whole month to prepare for the Panthers. They had no excuse not to win 34-10 under those circumstances.
I don’t know how good Cincinnati is. I respect their ability to make plays defensively. I’m very impressed with George Winn at tailback. I don’t know what to think of Munchie Legaux. He’s capable of burning defenses, but he also seems like the type that won’t fare well against a VT defense that should be prepared to show him a lot of looks.
I don’t know what to think about this Tech team, either. Until last week, the offensive line didn’t show any fire. At this point, the receivers are what they are. Logan Thomas hasn’t been as good. And the defense, except for that first game against Georgia Tech, hasn’t seemed as hungry. Hopefully they have the munchies on Saturday afternoon (go ahead…laugh).
I believe the Virginia Tech defense will show up and play a good game against an offense it is well-suited to defend. As far as Tech’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde offense, I really have no idea. This is typically the time of the season when VT’s offense begins to awake, and we saw some of that last week, I believe. Will it continue against Cincinnati? Your guess is as good as mine.
I believe the Hokies will do enough to win the game, but the inconsistencies of the offense and the fact that the defense doesn’t seem to be as hungry as usual make me very uncomfortable.
Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Cincinnati 17
Will Stewart’s Take: Just for giggles, I went back and looked at my prediction for the 2008 Orange Bowl matchup. I thought I remembered picking the Hokies to lose, and I did: Cincinnati 24, VT 13. The Hokies were missing Jason Worilds, Beau Warren, and Nick Marshman for that game, and Cincy was an impressive, well-rounded team with good coaching (Brian Kelly), good QB play, and some very good defenders.
I was wrong about that game, of course. After coughing up an early TD, the Hokies won handily, 20-7.
None of that is really relevant to this game or this pick. The cast of characters has changed, and this is a regular-season game, not a bowl game. (Having said that, Cincy gave up the home field advantage for money and will play the Hokies in a venue — FedExField — that will have more Hokie fans than Bearcat fans.)
This is an intriguing matchup, and I think if both teams play to their peak, it could be a really entertaining, hard-fought game. I think you can analyze strengths, weaknesses and matchups all you want, and you can make a case for either team to win.
What I think it will come down to is the psychology of the game, the motivation of the players and coaches. I think this particular version of the Hokies is more susceptible to these forces than many that we’ve seen. It’s hard to believe that the Virginia Tech team we saw on Labor Day night, which was motivated to play hard against a conference rival, is the same team we saw roll up to Pittsburgh, overconfident, and get whacked. The talent levels hardly seemed the same.
Maybe that will smooth out over time, particularly when VT gets into conference play and the Coastal Division title is on the line.
Cincinnati will be motivated to beat the Hokies, a program that (to them) has a higher profile. They want to make a statement. But their athletic director gave away their home field advantage. And if they watched Virginia Tech-Pittsburgh too closely, the Bearcats might be overconfident.
Meanwhile, the Hokies were firmly slapped back to reality by Pittsburgh, so they know not to take anyone lightly. If VT shows up to play, and play hard, this is the type of matchup they can win.
I’m rambling. I think it will be a close, entertaining game, and not particularly high scoring. College Football News predicted 24-13, Hokies, and I like the 24, but I think they’re not giving Cincinnati enough credit on offense.
Will Stewart’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Cincinnati 20