Butch Jones (photo credit: Pat Strang/513 Photography)
The Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the Louisville Cardinals 25-16 on Saturday afternoon to run their record to 5-1 (1-0 Big East).
The Bearcats, playing in front of homecoming weekend crowd of 40,971, struggled throughout much of the game on offense, but were picked up on numerous occasions by their defense which gave up zero touchdown on the afternoon.
The Bearcats trailed at halftime for only the second time this season against Louisville after Zach Collaros had a pass picked off by Louisville defensive back Mike Evans who returned the interception for a touchdown to give the Cardinals a nine point lead heading into the half.
Fortunately, that would be the only time Louisville would find the end zone on the afternoon.
In the second half, it was all Bearcats behind the effort of their defense, which didn’t allow Louisville to score a single second half point.
The Bearcats finally put the game away when Isaiah Pead took a handoff 50 yards for a score, giving the Bearcats their first lead of the afternoon. It was all they would need.
Butch Jones Speaks
Derek Wolfe (photo credit: Pat Strang/513 Photography)
On the win: “Everything started to snowball, but we never got down. I think this is a win that really defines who we are. This is a win that happened in January when we were building team chemistry and toughness. We said it when we started this journey in January that this team would be judged on how we respond to adversity. Good teams find ways to win when they don’t play their best.”
On winning at Paul Brown Stadium: It’s pretty special to finally get a win here. We just need to get people out to support this team now. We have something special here. But the 40,000 fans that did show up were loud. They turned Paul Brown Stadium into a 12th man and we really fed off of their intensity.
From The Locker Room
Derek Wolfe on a 4-0 record against Louisville: To never lose to those guys is huge. I’ve never, in my entire time here, seen the Keg of Nails anywhere other than in our trophy case. I’m just really proud of our guys. I’m proud of my teammates.
40,971. The attendance for Saturday’s homecoming game against Louisville – the third largest turnout in Cincinnati Bearcats football history.
6. Consecutive games with a rushing touchdown for Bearcat running back Isaiah Pead. The senior now has 92 carries for 650 yards and 8 touchdowns through 6 games this season.
Did you notice?
Zach Collaros (photo credit: Pat Strang/513 Photography)
During the second quarter, Pat O’Donnell’s punt was downed at the Louisville one-yard line. On that play, Louisville only had nine players on the field.
The turning point in Saturday’s game came late in the third quarter. With the Bearcats trailing by nine, and the game in the balance, Bearcats head coach Butch Jones made the decision to forgo the easy three points and go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Louisville one-yard line.
The decision would pay off when quarterback Zach Collaros, after faking a handoff to an in motion DJ Woods, scrambled into the end zone on the left side. The Bearcats still found themselves trailing by two at the time, but the momentum immediately shifted in the Bearcats favor from that point forward.
Saturday’s unsung hero was Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. Wolfe was the catalyst behind the Bearcat’s defensive attack. He was a one-man wrecking crew on numerous occasions, often sending Louisville’s quarterback into a scramble and forcing and incompletion.
After starting the game in Louisville territory after a solid opening kick return, the Bearcats offense was unable to get anything going at the start. A false start from Eric Lefeld, who was making his first collegiate start in place of Sean Hooey, put the Bearcats in a first down and long situation that they were unable to overcome.
Louisville, on the other hand, was able to move the ball on their first possession of the game. After taking over inside their own twenty, the Cardinals moved the ball with relative ease against a flat Bearcat defense. Finally, after the Cardinals had moved the ball inside the Bearcat 25, the defense made a stand. Still, the dive would produce an early field goal and subsequently an early Louisville lead.
After another debacle on their second offensive possession of the game, the Bearcats would again be forced to punt the ball away. This time, the Cardinals were able to partially block Pat O’Donnell’s punt, giving them great starting position near midfield. That drive would end in another Louisville field goal, this time coming from 51-yards out.
A third unproductive drive, this time marred by two dropped passes, would end the first quarter. The Bearcats, looking flat early on Homecoming, trailed 6-0 heading into quarter number two.
The second quarter kicked off with Louisville in possession of the ball. For the first time in the game, their drive would not result in any points, and they would be forced to punt the ball back to Cincinnati.
The Bearcats would show signs of life on their next possession, picking up their second and third first downs of the game. However after moving the ball into the Louisville territory, the drive stalled and the Bearcats were forced to punt.
After stopping Louisville on their next drive, the Bearcats would get the ball back and go to work. On just the fourth play of the ensuing drive, the Bearcats would take the lead when Zach Collaros found DJ Woods over the middle for 47 yards and a Bearcat touchdown.
On the ensuing possession for Louisville, a 58-yard pass would set the Cardinals with field position inside the Bearcats’ 10-yard line. However the Cardinals would fail to get into the endzone and settled for another field goal to regain the lead at 9-7.
On the Bearcats next possession, disaster struck. With under ten seconds remaining in the half and the Bearcats looking to sneak into field goal range, Zach Collaros threw and interception and Mike Evans took it 63 yards for a Louisville score. At the half, the Bearcats trailed 16-7.
The third quarter began with Louisville in front by nine and in possession of the ball. Things didn’t appear to improve a whole lot for the Bearcats from the start, as Louisville was able to move the ball into Bearcat territory with relative ease.
Unfortunately, on their first possession of the second half, the Bearcat offense appeared just as anemic as it had over the previous two quarters. After a quick three-and-out, they were forced to give the ball back to the Cardinal offense.
After another stop by the Bearcat defense, the ball would again find its way into the hands of the Bearcats offense. This time, however, the offense was up to the challenge. After Anthony McClung hauled in a deep pass from Zach Collaros to set the Bearcats up inside the Louisville 10-yard line, Zach Collaros scrambled in from a yard out on what was a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth down by Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones, pulling the Bearcats to within two.
After a series of scoreless possessions for both teams, the Bearcats got the ball and looked to take a late lead. They’d get that lead when Isaiah Pead took a handoff and scampered 50 yards for a Bearcat touchdown on what may have been his strongest run of the season.
After a two-point conversion was successful, the Bearcats led 22-16 with 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Louisville would start their next possession with solid field position, just past their own 40-yard line. However, much like the rest of the Cardinal’s second half possessions, they failed to get anything going against a rolling Bearcat defense.
The Bearcats’ ensuing possession would fail to produce any points, but the resulting punt would pin the Cardinals inside of their own fifteen yard line with just seven minutes remaining in the game.
The Cardinals would fail to score on both that possession and on their next when they failed to convert on fourth down against a Bearcat defense that never broke in the second half.
On their final possession of the game, the Bearcats sealed the deal. Two long runs from Isaiah Pead set the Bearcats up with a chip-shot field goal to extend their lead to nine, 25-16, and put the game on ice.
The Bearcats certainly left much to be desired on Saturday, playing that may have been their worst game of the season save for their loss at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers in week two. Still, a win is a win, and in a wide-open Big East Conference, starting off 1-0 was of the utmost importance.
There are two types of teams in college football. There are good teams, and there are bad teams. A trademark characteristic of any good football team is their ability to win with their backs against the wall. What separates the good teams from the bad teams isn’t how well they perform on their best day, it’s how they perform on their worst.
Today, we saw what may have been the Bearcats’ worst. Yet they still found a way to win. They found a way to win against a conference opponent, they found a way to win against perhaps their biggest rival, and they found a way to win in front of the third largest crowd in the history of Cincinnati football.
The Cincinnati Bearcats are a good football team. There’s no questioning that. The question remains, however, as to just how good they really are. They continue to mature as each week passes, and their confidence continues to build with wins like their latest one on Saturday.
With a tough stretch ahead of them, the Bearcats will find out the answer to that question over the next three weeks. With matchups against South Florida, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh all looming, the Bearcats are sure to go one of two ways.
Contender? Or pretender? We’ll find out. But on Saturday, the Bearcats took one (sloppy) step towards the former.