Tuesday, October 21, 2003

UC faces uphill road to bowl

Bearcats need strong second half

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A year ago, the University of Cincinnati started the season 2-5 before rallying to win five of its last six games, earning a share of the Conference USA championship and a berth in the New Orleans Bowl.

The Bearcats appeared to have avoided that sluggish beginning when they won their first three games this season, but three straight losses have left them staring at a second-half schedule that's decidedly more difficult than the first half as they attempt to extend their bowl streak to four straight years.

"We lost three games we shouldn't have lost," defensive end Andre Frazier said Monday. "We really need to step it up. That's why the intensity is picking up and everyone's getting motivated. We don't want to lose any more."

UC (3-3, 1-2 C-USA) had an open date last week, giving the Bearcats an opportunity to heal and refocus for the stretch run. They resume play at 3 p.m. Saturday at Nippert Stadium in a homecoming game against Army (0-7, 0-5) and new coach John Mumford, who replaced Todd Berry two weeks ago. The following week the Bearcats play at South Florida (4-2). They also still have to play at No. 15 TCU (7-0), at Memphis (4-3), and at home against Louisville (6-1).

The Bearcats, whose three wins have come against teams with a combined 4-16 record, have been plagued all season by turnovers, dropped passes and defensive breakdowns.

"I still think we're the biggest culprit," UC coach Rick Minter said of the Bearcats' struggles. "If we can get ourselves fixed, we have every opportunity (to make a run)."

Last year, the Bearcats improved in mid-season when they moved Trent Cole into the starting lineup at defensive tackle. But Minter anticipates no dramatic personnel moves this time, except to keep searching for a receiver who can catch the ball consistently.

"We have no more moves to make," Minter said. "We're out of moves."

The off week provided running back Richard Hall, who's averaging 109 yards per game, to fully recover from the concussion he suffered against Southern Miss and that kept him out of the Oct. 11 UAB game.

"He ran hard last week (in practice)," Minter said.

Quarterback Gino Guidugli, who played against UAB with a sprained left knee, is also in better shape. He's been experiencing soreness in his right shoulder, but Minter says it's nothing to be concerned about.

UC is lodged in eighth place in the league, two losses behind TCU and Louisville, with five league games remaining.

The Bearcats must win six games overall to be eligible for one of five bowl games affiliated with Conference USA.

"We're way better than 3-3," Frazier said. "And I think we're going to show that in the later part of the season."

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com

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