San Diego State takes on an offensive focused attack against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Hawaii Bowl. To get a closer look at the Bearcats we reached out Down the Drive who covers the team answered questions about the game.
1. The big matchup in this game is the Cincinnati's offense vs. the Aztecs defense. Can you give the cliff notes version of this offense to those who have not seen it?
Cincinnati's offense is very explosive, ranking 5th in the nation with 559.4 total yards per game. While their 4th-ranked passing game (373.1 yards per game) receives the most attention, for good reason, their run game is pretty formidable as well, ranking 47th nationally averaging 186.3 yards per game.
The Bearcats can create great balance with their stable of senior receivers (seven of them) and three running backs in Hosey Williams, Tion Green and Mike Boone, who all bring slightly different skill sets to the run game.
Despite the offensive firepower, and nearly 4,500 yards passing by Hayden Moore and Gunner Kiel, the offense is prone to shoot themselves in the foot with inopportune penalties and, in particular, turnovers. They rank on the other end of the spectrum from the Aztecs at 124th nationally, with a margin of minus-16.
Obviously the Cincinnati defense has a say in that margin, but the Bearcats quarterbacks have thrown 19 interceptions and Cincinnati has lost 11 of 19 fumbles on the season. In most cases, Cincinnati has had the weapons to move the ball on anyone, but the turnovers have been this offense's Achilles heel all year. With fewer turnovers, Cincinnati's 7-5 record would likely be closer to 10-2 because of what this offense can do when they protect the ball.
2. Sticking with the offense, quarterback Gunner Kiel is away from the team for personal reasons. If for some reason he does not play how will the offense look under Hayden Moore? (officially Kiel will not play).
The game plan will remain largely unchanged, although the play-calling may go a little more conservative, at least early on. Kiel is a very talented player who can make NFL throws and is trusted to run the offense in it's entirety. Moore is also a talented player, although maybe not has naturally gifted, and is still relatively inexperienced. Moore actually played a lot of football this season, due to Kiel injuries, and played with tremendous poise for a redshirt freshman.
Even in the games Moore started, the coaches called the games in largely the same way they would have with Kiel under center. Moore played well enough in those opportunities to even create a midseason quarterback controversy, with Kiel eventually winning out after a couple weeks.
If Moore does start, I expect Cincinnati to try to get him comfortable with some easy throws and then open up the playbook like they have done all season. Expect a balanced attack with the running back rotation and then a varied passing attack, looking to spread the ball around to the playmakers.
3. The Aztecs run a unique defense in their 3-3-5 set, but does this different defensive style have any real effect for what the Bearcats want to do offensively?
Cincinnati's talented receivers (Shaq Washington, Mekale McKay, Chris Moore, Johnny Holton, Max Morrison...etc) are such a big part of their offensive success that I don't see them shying away from the passing game. Cincinnati will still toss it around and trust their senior playmakers at receiver to win matchups, find space and make plays. Even if Moore is the quarterback, he will lean on that receiving core to move the ball.
That said, Cincinnati will likely spend a little more time establishing the run than they have at times this season. They already are pretty balanced in their game plan throwing the ball 516 times compared to 480 carries in the run game over 13 games. Williams (727 rushing yards) and Green (697 rushing yards) are two backs who should get a number of opportunities to find some space against the interior of the 3-3-5 defense.
Boone (717 rushing yards) is the biggest home-run threat who will get touches as well. I don't know if I see Cincinnati changing things dramatically, but I think it's fair to say you may see a renewed emphasis on the run game.
4. San Diego State has a very good running game with Donnel Pumphrey and Chase Price and the Bearcats rush defense is giving up nearly 200 yards per game, so what is the game plan to slow down the Aztecs rushing attack?
The game plan will likely be stacking the box and taking their chances with the Aztecs passing attack. The Bearcats have struggled at every level defensively this season and will need to sell out to have a chance of even limiting the effectiveness of Pumphrey and Price.
The secondary hasn't performed well enough to be left out on an island, but there is a lot of young talent there that have shown flashes. Still, I think Cincinnati will take their chances on the outside and try to clog the run game with numbers.
4. Outside of quarterback, who would you say is the most important player for Cincinnati to be successful against San Diego State?
Cincinnati will really need a team effort to beat a team like San Diego State, but if I had to say one, I would pick receiver Shaq Washington. He plays a lot in the slot and has his name written all over the Cincinnati record books for receiving. He has 88 catches on the year for 971 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
He has been the Bearcats most consistent offensive player and figures to play a big role as a safety valve, especially if Moore starts. Additionally, he returns punts and does have a good burst to potentially make a play there. It will be important that he has a big role in the game and plays well.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
As far as matchups go, this really is a tough matchup for Cincinnati. They have trouble stopping the run, they could be missing Kiel and their spread offense is going up against San Diego State's very good 3-3-5 unit. Not to mention, the Aztecs are first nationally in turnover margin while Cincinnati sits comfortably at 124th out of 127 teams. If you had to create a team from scratch to beat Cincinnati, it would probably look a whole lot like this San Diego State team.
Cincinnati's offense is explosive and has really only been stopped this season by their own miscues and turnovers, so the potential for points is there. Even the Cincinnati defense has shown flashes of a team that could turn this one into a slugfest.
Get to know San Diego State's bowl opponent Cincinnati.If you could guarantee that Cincinnati won't lose the turnover margin, I'd take Cincinnati because of how explosive the offense is and because I expect the defense to play better than the statistics suggest. However, it seems more likely to me that the Aztecs force a couple turnovers defensively and control the clock offensively with their run game, on their way to a close win.