Before every football game this year, The Blue Zone is going to sit down with a football writer from the opposing school’s student newspaper to get the scoop on their team and season.
This week, The Chronicle’s Daniel Carp spoke to The News Record’s Sports Editor Josh Miller about this Thursday’s Belk Bowl between Duke and Cincinnati.
The Chronicle: Most Duke football fans haven’t seen much game tape from Cincinnati. Give me a quick rundown of the way the team operates, and what the Bearcats’ strengths and weaknesses have been this year.
Josh Miller: Cincinnati is a spread running team that will look to control the line of scrimmage and counter with play action and short passing plays. Offensively, the Bearcats’ biggest strengths have been their offensive line play and the utilization of tight end Travis Kelce in the passing game. Cincinnati’s biggest offensive weakness has been the continued inconsistency of its passing game.
TC: Since the regular season has ended, Cincinnati has experienced a great change with the departure of head coach Butch Jones. Has the Bearcats’ coaching controversy posed any sort of distraction during the team’s bowl preparations?
JM: I don’t think the coaching change has been a distraction to the players, but it will be interesting to see if there is any sideline confusion or procedure penalties during the game. The majority of Cincinnati’s assistants have already followed Jones to Tennessee, leaving the staff very small for the Belk Bowl.
TC: Despite the recent hiring of Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati will be led in the Belk Bowl by interim coach Steve Stripling. Do you expect the Bearcats to operate differently under Stripling’s direction, or are we more likely to see a gameplan similar to that of Butch Jones?
JM: To my knowledge, Coach Tuberville’s involvement to this point has been focused on recruiting and not on implementing new systems or schemes. The gameplan during the bowl game will most likely be a mirror-image of what Cincinnati looked like under Jones.
TC: The Bearcats made a quarterback change just before their stretch run, going from Munchie Legaux to Brendon Kay. What inspired the change and what has Kay brought to the Cincinnati offense since then?
JM: The quarterback change came during the Syracuse game Nov. 3, after a very shaky start to the game from quarterback Munchie Legaux. He had played pretty poorly in the team’s back-to-back losses to Toledo and Louisville in the Bearcats’ previous two contests and there was a good amount of pressure from the fans and media to see Brendan Kay get a chance to play. Kay hasn’t shocked the world since he took over, but he’s been a little bit more reliable.
TC: Duke hasn’t appeared in a bowl game in 18 years. Meanwhile, Cincinnati has gone to bowls in six consecutive seasons, including two appearances in BCS bowls. Do you believe the Blue Devils’ lack of experience in postseason play will be a factor in the Belk Bowl?
JM: Cincinnati’s previous bowl experience could play a legitimate factor in the outcome of the game. The bowl game process is a month long for the actual teams, with 15 additional practices and a week of bowl game activities. Whichever team stays most focused on the game itself will have an advantage. Because the Bearcats’ players have been through the process before, it could give them the upper hand in that regard.
TC: For Cincinnati, what is one player or unit on Duke’s team that worries them the most heading into this game?
JM: Duke quarterback Sean Renfree is most likely Cincinnati’s biggest worry heading into the game. He is among the top two or three quarterbacks the Bearcats have faced all year. Roughly 10 players have seen first-team action in Cincinnati’s injury-laden defensive backfield this season, and the unit has struggled against the likes of Syracuse quarterback Ryan Naasib and Louisville signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater.
TC: If you had to pick one matchup that could be an X-factor in Thursday’s game, what would it be and why?
JM: I could see this game coming down to the play of the Bearcat offensive line against Duke’s defensive front. Cincinnati comes into the game with a pretty glaring advantage on the ground. George Winn and Ralph David Abernathy IV have formed a challenging one-two punch all season and the Bearcats must dominate on the ground to stay within their comfort zone. Duke must force Cincinnati to pass the ball in order to win this game.
TC: Finally, what’s your score prediction for the 2012 Belk Bowl?
JM: I’m going to say Cincinnati 34, Duke 21.