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GAMEDAY REPORT: LAST BIG NON-CONFERENCE TEST - OU/CINCY
September 26, 2010

SCS.com The last non-conference game may be a cupcake for some teams (see Big Ten conference, in general, this week), but for Oklahoma, their last test before Texas was a tough one. Their first roadtrip from Norman found them in Cincinnati playing a Bearcat team with their backs against the wall after a 1-2 start. The Bearcats were struggling on defense, but you could feel in the air that the Bearcats believed this was the game where they turned it all around. For most of the game, the Bearcats outplayed the Sooners, although both put up a ton of offense throughout the game. Every time Cincinnati desperately needed a stop, they got one. Despite two costly turnovers in the Sooners' end zone, Cincinnati stood late in the game with a chance to drive down a very short field and kick a winning field goal. But the anatomy of an upset is never so simple...

The pregame festivities were interesting as a lot of Oklahoma fans made the trip north to Ohio, while Cincinnati fans were also displaced from campus in the downtown area for the game. While there's nothing like a college campus on gameday, the tailgating was plentiful in the lots around the "Banks" development area between the two pro stadiums on the riverfront. Having seen the season opening game between Miami of Ohio and Kentucky here a year ago, this year was much different as Cincinnati brought a lot of fans in their own hometown in comparison to the Wildcats and Redhawks. Cincinnati fans seemed cautiously optimistic that they would make some strides today before starting conference play, while Oklahoma fans were slightly worried about the road game conditions but still were confident. Texas is clearly on Sooner fans' minds, but there's a task at hand first. As the teams warmed up, Landry Jones looked crisp, but it is sometimes hard to tell whether that will translate into a fast start in the game. Bearcat fans were loud and proud and filled the stadium, hoping to see a major upset.

FIRST QUARTER

Oklahoma won the toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff. Coming out of the gate, OU picked up a quick first down but then stalled out and gave up a big punt return punctuated by a late hit personal foul that set up the Bearcats at the Oklahoma 32 on their first drive. A big 24 yard pass to Anthony McClung on third down surprised the Sooners, but McClung could not catch the touchdown pass on the next third down and Cincinnati settled for a field goal. Still, a perfect start for the struggling Bearcats. Then Oklahoma stormed down the field on the legs of DeMarco Murray and some well-time hurry-up passes by Landry Jones. Twelve plays later, Murray plunged through for a one-yard touchdown to put the Sooners ahead 7-3. Cincinnati took their second possession nowhere with a couple of incomplete passes, and punted the ball back to Oklahoma. Jones kept up his hot streak of completions on the ensuing drive, running his streak to 13 straight completions on a 7 yard touchdown pass to Ryan Broles for a 14-3 advantage late in the first quarter. A block in the back on the kickoff pushed Cincinnati back but the Bearcats powered down with two big runs and a 55 yard pass to D.J. Woods. Cincinnati ended the quarter within the five yard line and looking to make it interesting.

SECOND QUARTER

The second quarter started with a play where Zach Collaros ran almost to the right sideline and then all the way across the field to the left sideline where he found John Goebels for the touchdown on third down. the extra point was missed and it was 14-9. On the ensuing drive a big play down the field was called back by an illegal shift, and Cincinnati took the ball over with a chance to take the lead. On the first play from scrimmage, a 75 yard run on a pass ended in disaster as D.J. Woods fumbled into the endzone for an Oklahoma touchback. Despite the Bearcat defense giving up 50 yards on the next possession, they held firm around the 30 yard line and Stevens missed the field goal that would have put the lead at 8. Cincinnati keeps dodging bullets in this game, and after seeing UCLA blow away Texas earlier today, this one is not in the bag until the Sooners put it away. The teams exchanged 3-and-out possessions and Cincinnati ended up with good field position near midfield. Pead worked on the Oklahoma defense at the edges with swing passes and wide runs but the drive ended on a Collaros interception in the end zone for another touchback and another dodged bullet for the Sooners. On the next drive Oklahoma moved the ball down to their own 25 but Jones overthrew a wide open receiver on third down in the end zone and the drive ended with a 42 yard field goal. Oklahoma takes a 17-9 lead. Cincinnati went three-and-out to end the half with only a 8-point deficit.

HALFTIME THOUGHTS

Surprisingly, this game has not turned out to be a track meet, even though both teams are moving the ball well thus far. Isaiah Pead is really keeping Cincinnati in the game with some power running, but the major story to this point is the Cincinnati mistakes. One interception in the end zone and a fumble on a 70 yard pass into the end zone have cost Cincinnati probably 10 points, maybe 14. This game would be completely different if those points were on the board, and Cincinnati's defense is doing more than enough to win this game if it stays this way. Oklahoma is finding a lot of openings and Landry Jones needs to bring his passes down a bit to ensure he gives his receivers a chance to exploit those wide open holes in the Bearcat defense. Look for Cincinnati to keep pounding away with Pead, but the mistakes have to stop if the Bearcats are to come back in this one.

THIRD QUARTER

Cincinnati opened the third quarter with some power running with Pead but it fell short and Oklahoma took over after a great punt on their own 8 yard line. Cincinnati helped Oklahoma down the field with a pass interference and a roughing the passer penalty, and Murray kept pounding the ball into the Cincinnati defense. Mossis Madu capped the long drive with a 3 yard touchdown run to put Oklahoma up 24-9. However, on the ensuing drive D.J. Woods had a huge 80 yard near touchdown called back because his elbow hit the ground on a tackle he seemed to roll over on the first view, calling the play all the way back to their own 33 yard line (if it weren't for Woods fumble into the end zone earlier in the game, that might be the turning point. However, Pead kept the ball moving past downfield with good runs which led to a 42 yard field goal, cutting the Oklahoma lead to 24-12. A huge defensive stand must come soon for the Bearcats to energize the crowd and keep them in the game. However, Oklahoma passed a couple of big plays with Broyles and approached the red zone in a few plays. However, the drive fell short after an important sack near the 40 yard line. Cincinnati and Oklahoma exchanged three and outs near the end of the quarter. Cincinnati benefitted from a late hit out of bounds after a 35 yard Pead run and that put them in the red zone to start the final quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER

However, as the fourth quarter started, Collaros was sacked back at the 26 yard line, which forced a 43 yard field goal that cut the lead to 24-15. Oklahoma picked up three third down conversions on the next drive but then Jones made a poor decision in Cincinnati territory and OU turned the ball over with a J.K. Schaeffer interception. Cincinnati used a screen pass and power runs by Pead to move down the field quickly. A 35 yard touchdown strike to D.J. Woods on third down made it a ballgame again, OU 24, UC 22. When Oklahoma went three-and-out on the next drive, Cincinnati took over at the Oklahoma 44 with a huge opportunity. However, a fumble lost on third down put Oklahoma in business near midfield with seven minutes to go. But Cincinnati held firm, before disaster striking on a muffed punt return that Oklahoma recovered on Cincinnati's 8 yard line. Oklahoma put it in on a Landy Jones touchdown pass two plays later to put the game out of reach at 31-22. The crucial mistakes did in Cincinnati once again, as their third turnover was the most costly. Cincinnati and Oklahoma traded three-and-outs, and then with a minute and a half left, Cincinnati drove down the field with lots of out passes. The drive was capped with 30 seconds left on a 25 yard touchdown pass, which cut the deficit to 2. Cincinnati could not come up with the miracle on the onside kick though, and the Sooners ran out the clock for the victory.

When Oklahoma needed to make big plays, they did to hold onto the lead and the win. However, Cincinnati fans should be excited at the strength and resolve the Bearcats showed against probably a superior opponent. Landry Jones is clearly still growing as a quarterback, but the throws are getting better and other than one interception, his decision-making was sound. With Croyle and Murray helping him out, Jones will be able to take on Texas next week with far more confidence than he had a year ago when he was put in the fire. The only troubling detail of this game is that Cincinnati ran the ball with Pead very well, and the Bearcats were not running well at all coming into this game. Perhaps that is just a function of changing the defense once again to face a drastically different offense. The good news is while Texas will be mighty angry after their loss last week, the Longhorns run a similar style of offense as Cincinnati, and thus Oklahoma will not have to throw the entire playbook out again this week. The Sooners are certainly in a better state than when the close games on the road kept turning into losses a season ago.

For Cincinnati, the defense really stepped up when they needed to. If it were not for the four turnovers, this game may go a lot differently for the Bearcats. However, you cannot afford those mistakes in big games and Cincinnati will have a couple very big games in conference play. The Bearcat offensive line did not struggle nearly as much as they did in the first three games, but there are still issues when opponents bring heavy blitz packages. Zach Collaros was highly accurate tonight, and that has to be a function of having more than 2 seconds in the pocket per play. D.J. Woods could be a superstar if Collaros keeps targeting him, and we saw a ton from Isaiah Pead tonight, which bodes well when the going gets tough in Morgantown or against Pittsburgh. The Bearcats perhaps played an opening four games nearly as brutal as Oklahoma, and they did three of the four games away from Nippert Stadium. Thus, you have to believe that the next four weeks with 3 games at home and a close roadtrip to Louisville are going to get this team turned around. But the mistakes need to be eliminated, as you simply cannot fumble the ball through the endzone and throw interceptions inside the 25-yard line and expect to win, even against lesser opponents.

So what does it all mean? For Oklahoma, this is a confidence-booster in a hostile road environment, right before going to Texas. While having to battle in a chippy game this week may not have been ideal, it is better to come out with a win in a tough game than get walloped by 3 touchdowns at home like Texas did. Oklahoma still has some question marks, bt one has to figure after this performance that they are the favorite going into Dallas next week, which sets them up for a downhill road to the conference championship. For Cincinnati and the Big East, this is another disappointing outcome but way more promising than Pittsburgh and West Virginia are looking as of the writing of this article. Cincinnati may not be a de facto favorite for a third conference championship after a 1-3 start, but Big East teams cannot sleep on the Bearcats, especially with a favorable schedule until November's roadtrip to Morgantown (with a bye week beforehand). So while a 4-0 start and a 1-3 start may look like a mismatch on paper, both of these teams will remain in the mix for the conference championships as expected when the season began. Congratulations to Oklahoma, and thanks once again to the UC athletic department for inviting us to cover this game. See you next week as we take a plunge into conference play around the country. There are some mega-matchups in store, so we'll see you then.

The Pick - Oklahoma 51, Cincinnati 28
The Final - Oklahoma 31, Cincinnati 29

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