Defenses Offend in Prime Time Shootout

47-45.  One quick glance at the score tells you that this game was all offense, all the time.  And what should have been a comfortable lead for Cincinnati turned into a last-second preservation of the team’s undefeated season.

Cincinnati got the ball to start the game, and proceeded to drive 80 in 8 plays for a touchdown.  The whole thing took less than three minutes.  And with that punch to the mouth, how did Connecticut respond?  How about a 79-yard, 11-play drive to tie the score at seven.  Having taken the Bearcats’ best shot, the Huskies responded by featuring a spectacular ground game; tailbacks Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman were as good as advertised, and the UConn offensive line, with four players over 300 pounds, was an unstoppable force.

Pead and Bearcats put up huge offensive numbers, but the UC defense had touble handling UConn

Pead and Bearcats put up huge offensive numbers, but the UC defense had touble handling UConn

The game that had seemed so simple when the ball belonged to Cincinnati was in fact shaping up to be a fight. 

Cincinnati took over and almost immediately got back into UConn territory thanks to a 54-yard pass from Zach Collaros to Mardy Gilyard.  But the drive stalled, and the Bearcats settled for three.  After forcing the first punt of the game on the subsequent possesion, the UC offense went right back to work.  The second quarter began with a Zach Collaros touchdown run that capped an 87-yard drive. 

UConn struck back with a drive highlighted by two passes from quarterback Zach Frazer to standout wide receiver Marcus Easley.   However, the Huskies also had to settle for three after faltering deep in UC territory.  Cincy answered with another field goal of its own as Collaros completed throws to four different receivers.  Another UConn punt gave the ball back to the Bearcats offense.  Less than two minutes later, they were back in the endzone, thanks in large part to a 41-yard grab by Armon Binns.  Up 27-10, the home team had all the momentum on its side, and the defense stepped up to force yet another Huskies punt.  A third UC field goal closed out the half with the score Cincinnati 30, UConn 10.

The Bearcats offense looked unstoppable.  They had scored on all six first half possessions.  Mardy Gilyard had 9 receptions for 117 yards.   Tailbacks Jacob Ramsey and Isaiah Pead had combined for 101 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.  Callaros had 333 yards passing.  By the break, Cincinnati already had six plays of 20 yards or more.  To put it bluntly, they were doing whatever they wanted with the ball. 

But in the words of Lee Corso, not so fast, my friend.

The teams swapped punts to open the third quarter, and UConn got the ball with roughly ten minutes remaining.  In the first half, UConn had been alternating tailbacks, splitting carries between the speedy Jordan Todman and the more physical Andre Dixon.  But Dixon was coming out of the game repeatedly after getting banged up, and coach Randy Edsall elected to turn his full attention to Todman.  As it had done on the Huskies’ first possession, the UConn offensive line began to assert itself, and the Bearcats defense, which had played fairly well for the first 30 minutes, looked hopelessly lost.

Jordan Todman had 162 yards and four scores in a losing effort

Jordan Todman had 162 yards and four scores in a losing effort

First came a touchdown on a 46-yard explosion by Todman.  The hole he hit was big enough to accommodate the team bus.  The score was 30-17, and the partisan crowd at sold-out Nippert stadium quickly realized that this wasn’t over after all.  The Bearcats answered with their usual efficiency- the 80-yard touchdown drive took less than three minutes, and finished with a 28-yard scoring run by Collaros.  The lead was back to twenty and the momentum back with UC.  Until a punt on thier next possession was returned 87 yards for a touchdown by UConn’s Robert McClain.

Cincinnati had 37 points but still couldn’t salt the game away, and the frustration was beginning to show.  The Bearcats next drive featured a 31-yard completion to Armon Binns, but netted only a field goal to put the Bearcats up 40-24.  And with the defense back on the field thinking run, Randy Edsall dialed up  the perfect play call: a 52-yard pass down the seam from Frazer to wideout Kashif Moore.  Todman punched it in from the one, a two-point conversion followed, and suddenly it was an eight point game.  This matchup, which had seemed so lopsided at halftime, was very much in doubt.

Worse, the offense picked this point in the game to stall, and UC had to punt following a three-and-out.  Having softened up the Bearcats’ defense with the deep pass, Edsall now went back to The Jordan Todman Show.  Todman carried the ball ten times for 41 yards and a touchdown to lead UConn on a 14-play, 62-yard drive that consumed nearly seven minutes.  With five minutes left in the game, the Huskies lined up for another two-point conversion that would tie the score at 40.

Curtis Young's forced fumble ended UConn's 2-point conversion bid and kept Cincinnati ahead

Curtis Young's forced fumble ended UConn's 2-point conversion bid and kept Cincinnati ahead

Though the Cincinnati offense failed at an inopportune time, the defense picked the perfect time to step up its game.  Lineman Curtis Young sacked Frazer, jarring the ball loose.  While Cincinnati was unable to return the fumble, the failed two-point bid kept the Bearcats in the lead by two.  The play seemed to give the team jolt that it sorely needed, and Collaros spent the next three minutes driving for a touchdown that put the Bearcats up 47-38 with under two minutes remaining.  Surely a nine point lead with so little time remaining would seal the deal.

It didn’t.

In just over 90 seconds, UConn was in the endzone again.  Frazer went 6 of 8 for 77 yards to make the score 47-45 and give UConn one last shot at the upset.  Only after a failed onside kick did Cincinnati lock up the win.

Fans lucky enough to catch this game were treated to offensive extravaganza that has rarely been equalled.  But Cincinnati needs to seriously tighten up its defense if it hopes to finish the season undefeated.  UConn exposed some major problems, espically in handling the rush.  With Noel Devine and Jarrett Brown looming, the Bearcats have to get that issue resolved quickly.  Allowing 200+ yards on the ground is not the way to get back to the BCS.

On the other side of the field, UConn’s tough season continues.  Now the team has lost four Big East games by a combined 13 points.  Add in a 12-10 loss to North Carolina, and you have a team that sits at 4-5 having lost those contests by a total of 15.  In fact, the Huskies have outscored their competition by more than 50 points, yet still have a losing record.  Make no mistake, regardless of record this is a quality program.  Although having given up three games worth of yards against the Bearcats does make it clear that Edsall has some serious work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Quick Facts: 

  • Cincinnati had a total of 711 yards from scrimmage:  480 through the air, and 231 on the ground.
  • UConn amassed 461 yards with 201 coming on the ground.  They tacked on another 116 yards on punt returns.
  • Cincinnati had nine plays of twenty yards or more, exploiting what has been a major UConn weakness this season.
  • Cincinnati is still tops in the nation in fewest giveaways (4 total, 0 fumbles).
  • Mardy Gilyard (172) and Armon Binns (108) both broke the century mark in receiving yards.
  • The two teams played an incredibly clean game, combining for zero turnovers and only 9 penalties.
  • UConn’s longest scoring drive took 6 minutes, 42 seconds.  Their seven scoring drives averaged 2:47.
  • Cincinnati’s longest scoring drive took 4:58.  Their nine scroing drives averaged 2:17.