Posted on: January 2, 2009 1:41 am
Edited on: January 2, 2009 1:23 pm
MIAMI -- As the Bearcats exited the Dolphin Stadium field and the Hokies celebrated their first Orange Bowl victory in their prestigious history, a cadre of players clad in maroon and orange yelled out, "Cincinnati who?!"
A fair question considering the circumstances.
Pop quiz: With a little more than seven minutes and 23 seconds left in the game, the ball on the Hokies' 1-yard line, your team losing 20-7 and fourth down on the scoreboard, what do the Bearcats do?
Answer: Run a sweep play with plodding quarterback Tony Pike.
This from the team with Mardy Gilyard, he of 158 yards on seven catches fame and Dominick Goodman, he of six catches for 51 yards and now Cincinnati's all-time leader in receiving yards fame.
A run play with your program's first-ever BCS title on the line? A run with a quarterback who doesn't exactly have a 1-2 in his step? A run, when the only element of your offense that's had any bit of success is the pass?
"Yeah, I was a little bit (surprised)," said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. "They had their run formation out there, but I thought they were playing a little game with us."
When arguably the nation's top defensive coordinator is scratching his head, you know it's an odd call.
But the Bearcats players defended the play, like good soldiers.
"I wasn't (surprised)," said uber-receiver Gilyard. "I was surprised at the type of run that was called. We've got good backs. I thought we would try to get those backs into the end zone somehow someway, but a quarterback sweep? I didn't understand why we run an outside sweep instead of running inside."
Maybe Pike, the quarterback who rose from obscurity to lead the Bearcats to their first Big East title, can help shed some light on the play call.
"We just put that play in this week," Pike said.
Oh, a new play. Makes sense to run something the team is barely familiar with. One that a passing team is supposed to execute in the most important seconds of the program's history?
The more you hear about the genesis of this play, the less you want to hear.
"It was more trying to get to the pylon," Pike said. "But they did a great job having me turn up. They stood me up. I have faith in what coach calls. You have an o-line with seniors and I'm running on their back. I had confidence on what was called."
It seems to happen more and more. Trickery, or going against what got a program to where it is, in crunch time. The Bearcats had no business lining up mano-y-mano with the trench warriors of Foster's regiment. But coach Brian Kelly, the offensive genius he is, decided against say, putting trips left and two receivers on the right and giving Pike the option to find one of his superstar receivers or running a quarterback draw. That formation, trips left, two receivers on the right was nothing but successful for the Bearcats. It's how they scored their lone touchdown and it's how they found room in between the 20s to move relatively easily on the Hokies for portions of the game.
But when the time came, the time that defines what your program's offense is all about, Kelly's team did something very un-Cincinnatian. Now I know what you're thinking. If it works, and the Bearcats come back, it's genius. Maybe so. But why coaches at all levels decide to ditch the bread and butter for lamb and tuna fish in the most important part of a game boggles the mind.
If you're going to lose, lose guns blazing. If you're going to win, win with what made you the program you are. Don't do something put in the week of the big game. That's the stuff of Hollywood, not BCS games.
Call it a learning experience for Kelly. Call it me being overly critical. But it's part of a bigger problem of coaches unwilling to trust the DNA of their program in critical times and part of the reason may be insecurity. If spreading it out on the 1-yard line fails, it's now the system's fault -- the spread failed Cincinnati at its most important time. And if the spread fails, Brian Kelly fails. And the experiment in Cincy fails. That's not something a coach wants to live with. Now Kelly can go back and say, "well, if only we had stuck with my scheme. If only we hadn't ran the ball one last time, considering the lack of success -- 64 rushing yards -- the team had running all evening."
But the real Kelly said this:
"Well, obviously this is what you play for. You know, you play -- you work out in the summer and the preseason camp to get an opportunity to get to this point. But you want to finish it off, so there's a lot of disappointment obviously in our locker room."
There's disappointment because Cincinnati abandoned the summer, preseason, the regular season, and 85 percent of the game up until that point by running a sweep on the most important play of the game with its least attractive option.
Posted on: December 29, 2008 12:47 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2008 1:26 pm
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- My school is a notch on a belt. An easy late-night conquest by some drunken big man on campus or maybe a gimmee put for Ohio native Jack Nicklaus. And I'm thrilled.
Thrilled to be easy pickings. Cincinnati, making its first-ever Orange Bowl appearance absolutely crushed my Miami RedHawks 45-20 on September 20. Quarterback Tony Pike looked nothing like a fifth-string afterthought. Receivers Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman looked very much like the future NFL wideouts they'll be and running back John Groebel, yes, running back John Groebel in the spread offense, even found paydirt twice.
Why am I rehashing all this? Because Cincinnati and Miami are rivals. Not just rivals, but like Jack Ryan advising the president in Clear and Present Danger, "lifelong rivals." Well, he says "friends" in place of "rivals." Anyway, the Battle for the Victory Bell is the oldest rivalry west of the Appalachians. West of the Appalachians, you ask quizzically? Yes, consider schools like Yale, Harvard, Lafayette, and Lehigh all of which have been playing football since around the birth of Cyrus McCormick. They all trump us, but nobody cares about those schools anymore. People slightly care about the Battle for the Bell, which began in 1888 and is the oldest non-conference college football rivalry in the country. And did I mention we own Cincinnati?
(Not yet, big guy)
Miami has won the ball 59 times to Cincinnati's 47. What I'm thinking is, if Cincinnati can get to a BCS bowl, welll ...
I get ahead of myself.
First let's hear what winning the Bell meant to Cincinnati's touchdown-machine running back (at least vs. us) John Groebel:
"The Victory Bell is definitely big," he tells me while trying to hide a smirk. "If we don't get that it's not good. Fortunately I've gotten it every year so far."
Me: "Anyway we can get you to transfer?"
"Don't think so," he says, while trying to steer the conversation back to normalcy. "But the Orange Bowl would definitely be huge for us. How much respect we've gotten since we've been here -- with Miami it started there. One step at a time. It means a lot; it's shown the improvement of our team in the past five years. We haven't had many trophies, now we're getting trophies."
Notch on their Bearcats' belt, I do say.
Leave it to an offensive lineman to lift my spirits.
"We just have to catch up to you guys," said starting guard, and captain of the Bearcats specifically for the Miami game, Trevor Canfield. "You guys have owned the Bell longer than we have."
Back to what I was originally getting at.
(You were getting at something?)
If the Bearcats can get to Miami, shouldn't the RedHawks be able to? Well, maybe. But first Miami has to lose the honor of being the lamest rival of any BCS team. Only Utah, with 3-9 Utah State can compare. The RedHawks were, gasp, 2-10 last season. Sure, Ohio State whooped up on a rebuilding Michigan and USC can usually get some third-teamers in vs. UCLA, but when it comes to rivalry games of BCS teams, nothing was weaker this year than the Battle for the Bell.
And that's where I'm trying to go with this nonsense. The BCS, in all its exclusivity glory, actually has some weird tentacles. For instance this: a MAC alumn such as me now has some sort of rooting interest in the Orange Bowl. I want to see the Bearcats show up. I want to know we lost to a Top 10 team. I want to know that we have a serious tilt in a longstanding rivalry with this year's Orange Bowl champ. I want to know that maybe, just maybe, the side of the Bell (the white side) with all those RedHawks (used to be Redskins) wins listed could sit next to a bowl of oranges at Millett Hall in Oxford, Ohio.
The BCS may be a lot of bad things, but once in a while it gives somebody like me, somebody from a school with seemingly no correlation to the big-boy bowls something to pay attention to.
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