By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
After a 3-0 start, including a victory at West Virginia, there seemed to be no limit to what this Cincinnati Bearcats team could achieve. A UC player even talked about running the table.
But with four losses in their last five games, the Bearcats (4-4) are out of the running for a second straight C-USA championship. A bowl game is a remote possibility.
The Bearcats, whose only win during this span is over winless Army, play Division I-AA Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon at Nippert Stadium. The Rams (3-6) have lost four straight.
"My role now is to make sure the players know they're OK, that they're still good players," Minter said Monday. "I know they're frustrated. We're all frustrated. It's a matter of hanging together."
Originally, UC was scheduled to play East Carolina this week, but ESPN requested that game be moved to Labor Day.
The Bearcats were to open their season against Western Kentucky. When the Hilltoppers were unable to move their game to this week, UC had to fill the date and came up with Rhode Island.
Minter and his players are trying to figure out how this season deteriorated so quickly.
"I said before the season started that we're not near as talented as we were last year," Minter said, "but we might have a better team with better chemistry, better player-coach relationship, better work ethic, and I think all that's been true. We have made some critical errors, and we're not good enough to constantly overcome them."
The offense has fallen off dramatically from last year. Through eight games in 2002, the Bearcats averaged 419 yards of total offense, 278 through the air. This year, they're averaging 368 yards, 190 passing.
"Certain guys have not stepped up the way we anticipated and we have to adjust on the run a little bit," Minter said.
UC fans can look for an offense that relies heavily on running the football, despite the presence of Gino Guidugli, statistically the best quarterback in school history. "We'll maybe emphasize the run, the run action, use a conservative approach a little bit more," Minter said. "It might not be what I would ultimately desire or you would prefer us to do because we've got a great quarterback, but we can only do what our kids can execute."
BURNS OK: Offensive coordinator Rusty Burns, hospitalized Friday before the South Florida game after complaining of discomfort, was scheduled to return to Cincinnati Monday night.
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