Brian Kelly royally screwed the Cincinnati Bearcats before the 2010 Sugar Bowl when he lied to his team about taking the Notre Dame job and then bolted for South Bend. The completely unprepared Bearcats were blown out 51-24 by the Florida Gators. Kelly wouldn’t have been able to get Cincinnati to win the game but they wouldn’t have been embarrassed either. Cincinnati turned to Butch Jones to replace Kelly, which is exactly what Central Michigan did when Brian Kelly left to take the Cincinnati job. Anyone who expected that Cincinnati was just going to plug in Jones for Kelly because they both run the Spread offense and get the same results was sorely mistaken. Run The Dive has a three part series (part 1, part 2, part 3) on how the two coaches are different. We suggest you look at all of the articles.
Wins and Losses
What can you say here but the obvious? Cincinnati went through the Big East unscathed in 2009 and then absorbed the beat down in New Orleans to finish the season 12-1 (7-0). Last year, the Bearcats went 4-8 (2-5). There was a new coach sure, but that isn’t enough to explain that kind of drop-off from one year to the next. The schedule was certainly harder in 2010 than in 2009. The Bearcats played two conference champions (Oklahoma and Miami (Ohio)) in 2010 and none in 2009. In fact, outside of the Sugar Bowl the best non-conference team Cincinnati played was 8-5 (Oregon State and Fresno State). In 2010, Fresno State’s 8-5 record was the worst compiled by the FBS opponents. After six games and a 3-3 record (1-0 in conference), the season could have gone either way for Cincinnati. The Bearcats offense and defense failed them and they nosedived losing all the rest of their games except for a wacky 69-38 affair against a very bad Rutgers team.
The Bearcats led the Big East in passing offense, total offense and scoring in 2010 just as they had in 2009. However, the offenses of the Big East in 2010 were nothing to brag about and Cincinnati led the league with deflated numbers. The Bearcats put up 48.1 less passing yards per game, 30.13 less total yards and 11.54 less points per game. The last number is the most important one. The Bearcats defense gave up almost five more points a game in 2010 vs. 2009. It’s not easy to win when you give up 28 points per game but if Cincinnati had only fallen five points per game in scoring output they would have still been a bowl team. The defense did not produce many turnovers and the offense gave the ball away way too much. When these two factors came together, Cincinnati went from being 13th in the country in turnover margin (.69) in 2009 to 119th in 2010 (-1.25). It wasn’t all bad news for the Bearcat defense. The rush defense improved from 61st in 2009 to 39th in 2010. In addition, total defense rose from 67th to 63rd. While Mardy Gilyard was an impact player that went well beyond statistics in motivating his teammates, without him the Bearcats went from 2nd in the country in kickoff returns to 94th and 18th in punt returns to 72nd.
Zach Collaros getting injured against South Florida changed the season. Once the team lost their fifth game of the season to Syracuse (Collaros was injured and didn’t play), the year was lost. In the final four games of the season, Cincinnati only managed to score more than 17 points in a game in the win against Rutgers while giving up at least 28 points in every game.
If He Had to Do It Over Again
The Bearcats were given an opportunity to beat Oklahoma early in the year at Paul Brown Stadium but could not find a way to win the game. Landry Jones threw an interception early in the 4th quarter which allowed Cincinnati to cut the lead to 24-22. The Bearcats defense got a three and out and then Collaros was sacked and fumbled. After getting another crucial stop for their offense, D.J. Woods fumbled the ball away on the punt return setting up the game-winning touchdown drive from the Bearcats 7 yard line. Woods had fumbled in the second quarter for a touchback when the game was 14-9 for the Sooners. Would Jones have pulled Woods if he could have that game back? Absolutely not. The fumbles were unfortunate but Woods finished with 171 receiving yards and a touchdown in that game. It was the right move to leave him in.
Cincinnati was inconsistent at the beginning of the year when they could have won two games (Fresno State and Oklahoma) that would have gotten them at a bowl berth at the end of the year. The three game losing streak against South Florida, Syracuse and West Virginia matched the longest of Butch Jones’ career when his 2008 Central Michigan team collapsed at the end of the season. I don’t think Cincinnati quit on Jones at the end of the year. I think the team was worn out (the defensive front couldn’t even stop the run anymore by the end of the year). Back in November, Mark was making the harrowing comparisons to Steve Kragthorpe’s first year at Louisville to Jones’ inaugural season at Cincinnati. If Jones can’t make a bowl game again in 2011…look out!