Saturday, November 8, 2003

UC can't look past Rhode Island


Bearcats in need of victory; Non-league win is essential heading into three-game Conference USA finish

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In August, this game loomed as a breather for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats as they geared up for their stretch run against TCU, Memphis and Louisville.

But as the Bearcats proved two weeks ago when they squeaked out a four-point victory over winless Army, there's no such thing as an easy game for this team.

UC (4-4) plays Division I-AA Rhode Island (3-6) at 2 p.m. today at Nippert Stadium in a game that is only the second-most anticipated of the day at UC, behind the Moeller-Colerain playoff game that will follow a few hours later.

UC coach Rick Minter said his team, which has lost four of its last five games, will not take it lightly.

"I don't think it'll be hard for us to get motivated," Minter said. "Any time you have setbacks, you'd better be determined and practice hard and get ready to roll."

If there's an interesting aspect to this game, it's to see how well UC's defense does against Rhode Island's potent option rushing attack.

The Bearcats rank 16th nationally in total yards surrendered, allowing 304 a game, and have been even more stingy against the run, giving up only 88 per game, which ranks them 11th nationally.

The Rams, who use the option to equalize their deficit in overall athleticism, average 317 rushing yards a game, which ranks them third in Division I-AA.

To prepare for Rhode Island, which has lost four straight, the Bearcats have spent a lot of time this week practicing without a football. The idea is to keep the defensive players from focusing on where the ball's going and concentrate instead on carrying out their assignments.

"Playing against the option is a discipline," free safety Franklin Callicott said. "I think it's helped us a lot. But you've got to think about the pass too. They can just run option, run option and then, boom, pass, so you've got to stay on your toes. You can't get rocked asleep."

A second straight conference title is out of the question for UC, and although the Bearcats technically remain in the running for a fourth straight bowl game, that, too, appears unlikely.

Rhode Island's defense allows 456 yards a game, including 209 rushing, so the Bearcats should be able to solve some of their offensive woes today. The danger is that if they fall behind early, the Rams will be able to consume time with long drives.

"We need to get them out of their game plan," Minter said, "get them out of their comfort zone. If you don't do that, you've got a war on your hands."

Cincinnati vs. Rhode Island

Kickoff: 2 p.m. today, Nippert Stadium (35,000).

Records: UC 4-4, Rhode Island 3-6.

Radio: WLW-AM (700).

TV: None.

Line: None.

What to watch: Division I-AA Rhode Island could make UC sweat a little if it can grab an early lead and eat up the clock with an option running game that averages 317 yards a game. But UC should have a big day rushing, too, against the Rams' porous defense.

UC Team stats URI
368 Offense avg. 407
179 Avg. by rush 317
190 Avg. by pass 90
304 Defense avg. 456
88 Avg. by rush 209
216 Avg. by pass 247
26 Avg. points for 27
23 Avg. pts. against 35
---

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com




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NEXT GAME
vs. South Florida (3-4)
• 1:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 20
• Nippert Stadium
• Radio: WLW-AM 700

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