October 23, 2008

Big East: Cincinnati finding ways to win

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Forget Plan B. Cincinnati was using Plan C in the past two games.

After surviving a road game at Marshall and the Big East opener against Rutgers with third-string quarterback Chazz Anderson, Cincinnati is preparing to upgrade to Plan B. And Plan A might not be far behind.

The Bearcats have been through their share of quarterback trouble this season. Ben Mauk, the starter in 2007, was denied a sixth year of eligibility and the appeals process lasted into the preseason. Dustin Grutza opened the season as the starter but suffered a broken leg against Oklahoma on Sept. 6. Tony Pike started the next two games before a broken left (non-throwing) forearm knocked him out for two games.

Pike likely will start this week against Connecticut, and Grutza's recovery from a broken lower leg and sprained ankle is ahead of schedule; he could play as soon as Nov. 8, against West Virginia.

"We're a lot better off than we were a couple of weeks ago," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "Hopefully, the layoff doesn't affect Tony, but if we have to, we have Chazz ready."

For now, the ball is in Pike's hands. He was 43-of-58 for 561 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in his two starts against Miami (Ohio) and Akron.

More important, Pike's return allows Kelly to loosen the reins on his wide-open offense. With Anderson, a redshirt freshman, at quarterback in the past two games, the Bearcats ran more two-back sets, were more conservative in their play-calling and punted more than Kelly would have liked.

Pike spent last week working in one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills. He returned to live drills this week, testing his surgically repaired arm when he fell on it after a hit from a teammate. "It's getting to the point where we're not even worrying about it anymore," Pike said.

If Grutza returns in two weeks, Kelly will have a decision to make. While both were injured, Grutza watched the game from the press box and sent observations to Pike on the sideline. When both are healthy, they could compete for the starting job.

Kelly says if Pike plays well in the interim, it will be a tougher decision.

Connecticut has had its own quarterback difficulties. Senior starter Tyler Lorenzen was lost for the season with a broken foot in the Louisville game Sept. 26. Backup Zach Frazer sustained a head injury in the 12-10 loss to Rutgers last week, but Huskies coach Randy Edsall has not revealed Frazer's status for Saturday.

For now, Pike is more concerned about facing a Connecticut team that leads the Big East with nine interceptions and is one of the top defensive teams in the league.

"They definitely force the turnovers and they're up there in the Big East in sacks, too," Pike said. "They do some line schemes that try to confuse the O-line. Their front four on the D-line are all exceptional players."

    Auburn at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m.
    Cincinnati at Connecticut, noon
    South Florida at Louisville, 3:30 p.m.
    Rutgers at Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m.

    Louisville rush offense vs. USF rush defense. Louisville doesn't have the high-flying passing game of years past. Instead, the Cardinals prefer to put the ball in the hands of freshman Victor Anderson and bruising senior Brock Bolen. USF is No. 6 nationally in rush defense. Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulls when they were without LB Brouce Mompremier. He returned against Syracuse last week. In addition, DE George Selvie and DT Terrell McClain are expected to be percent.

  • West Virginia QB Pat White. White, from Daphne, Ala., left his home state because SEC schools didn't want him as a quarterback. This likely will be his only chance to get the last laugh against a home-state school. He also will be facing Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, who was the coordinator at Pitt last season when the Panthers upset WVU to keep the Mountaineers out of the national title game last season. White is expected to play for the first time since Oct. 4, when he left a game against Rutgers with a head injury.

  • Pittsburgh's McCoy has rushed for 447 yards and five touchdowns in the past three games after rushing for 242 yards and five touchdowns in the first three. Rutgers RB Kordell Young has rushed 50 times for 158 yards in two games since returning from a knee injury. Louisville CB Johnny Patrick has scored a touchdown in each of the past two games; he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone against Middle Tennessee and returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown against Memphis.

  • Connecticut is averaging 147 rushing yards over the last three games after topping 200 in each of the first four. Louisville QB Hunter Cantwell has thrown five interceptions in the past three games. Rutgers WR Kenny Britt has more catches (46) without a touchdown this season than anyone in the country. Pitt is 0-3 against Rutgers under Dave Wannstedt.

  • "My middle son, he's 16 years old and a sophomore in high school. He still thinks Rutgers is a very good football team. He told me that the other day before that game. That just tells you they've got a good football team and just simply because they've lost some tough games ... we see it as coaches and the fans still see it."
    Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe

    "We haven't beaten anybody, really, that has any marquee appeal to it. Rutgers is a really good football team, but they were 1-4 or 1-5 at the time. You've got to beat quality teams to get ranked in the top 25. We haven't beaten anybody yet. I think we're about where we should be."
    Cincinnati's Kelly, whose team is 5-1 and unranked

    "There's some things I might not want to give that can help our opponent prepare for what we're doing. It's no disrespect to (the media), but there are some competitive situations that do occur in this game, not just this week but all the time. As coaches, you don't want to give away competitive advantages."
    Connecticut's Edsall on his decision not to reveal the status of Frazer, from The Hartford (Conn.) Courant.

  • ETC.
  • If UConn's Frazer cannot play because of the head injury suffered against Rutgers, redshirt freshman Cody Endres will start. Meanwhile, the Huskies have benched K Tony Ciaravino, who missed three field goals last week in a two-point loss, for redshirt freshman Dave Teggart USF backup FS Danny Verpaele is out for the season with a broken foot. Rutgers backup QB Domenic Natale entered the win over Connecticut for one series as a substitute for starter Mike Teel and entered for a few plays on other possessions. Natale was 2-of-5 passing for 26 yards and ran twice for 3 yards. Pittsburgh backup QB Pat Bostick entered the 42-21 win over Navy late in the fourth quarter. Bostick started as a true freshman and was expected to redshirt, but coach Dave Wannstedt said he wanted to get Bostick some work if starter Bill Stull were to be injured. Bostick has not thrown a pass this season. West Virginia DT Pat Liebig could return this week after missing three games with a concussion.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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