Purdue and Cincinnait will kick off the college football season in late August, and SB Nation is lucky to have a great blog dedicated to the Bearcats in Down The Drive. Matt Oper recently answered some questions about a strong Bearcat team that Darrell hazell will begin his coaching tenure at Purdue against.Hree is what Matt had to say:
T-Mill: Both teams are breaking in new coaches that may be changing things from a continuity standpoint. Who has the advantage?
Matt: For better or worse the edge in this kind of debate usually goes to the coach with the most experience. This is the fourth time that Tuberville has been in charge of this kind of transition. That experience has to count for something. I think that Hazell is a very, very capable coach who will do very well with the program, but he is still in the "figuring things out" stage of his career. He is a very smart guy with some flair for the organizational aspect of the profession who will get there. But that first season transitioning from running one program to running the next is fraught with perils.
The only real blemish on Butch Jones's CV was the 2010 season when he took over UC with high expectations and decent enough talent to at least make a bowl. Thats not what happened though. The leaders of the team never really bought into Butch and the way he did things on and off the field. UC gave Oklahoma a scare but that was the high point, and UC finished with a dismal 4-8 record. I have no idea how it will work for Hazell, but the transition process for a newish head coach is filed under the "generally unknown" tab in my head.
T-Mill: On the same front, Purdue initially went after Butch Jones before losing out on that deal. Will that be much of a factor since he is gone?
Matt: It's hard to tell. Butch Jones did a lot of good things while in the Queen City, but his tenure feels slightly empty. The Bearcats did get a couple of split championships and posted two 10 win seasons, but its hard to escape the feeling that he should have done more. In 2011 UC was riding high atop of the league preparing for a third BCS bowl when Zach Collaros went down against West Virginia. Jones was unable to adjust in that game and lost a close one, they were then completely unprepared against Rutgers and lost again ending any hope of BCS bowl #3. Last year he stuck with Munchie Legaux long past the point of diminishing returns. Many Bearcats will argue that Munchie alone is responsible for the losses to Toledo and Louisville, that is ridiculous. But it is clear that Jones was unwilling or unable to see how poorly Munchie was playing. That is one example, but it is a valuable example for one of Jones's biggest failings. I was of the opinion that Jones was a very good coach, and I still am, but he left several important wins on the field, most notably the Oklahoma game which was UC's for the taking.
T-Mill: Cincinnati had a pretty good defense last year but lost 7 starters. Who fills in and how do they bounce back?
Matt: Depending on how you count the nickle back the Bearcats only lost 5 starters off last years group. Free Safety Drew Frey, Corner Cam Cheatham, Linebacker Maalik Bomar, and Defensive Ends Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano are all moving on. But there is a lot coming back, particularly at linebacker. Greg Blair was a first team All Big East selection a year ago in his first turn as a starter, he is back, as is Nick Temple who really came on at the end of the year. Former FSU linebacker Jeff Luc will be plugged in as the third starter. UC will have one of the 15 or so best linebacker units in the country. That will be the fulcrum of the defense, and its a good group to build a scheme around. The real question marks are who replaces Drew Frey and can the Bearcats get any pass rush.
The Bearcats were a bit of a statistical anomaly last year in pass defense. UC was 91st in yards allowed per game, 252 a game. At the same time UC was 24th in pass efficiency defense and allowed just 13 passing TD's against 16 INT's. What makes that really strange is that UC did that without much of a pass rush after Walter Stewart went down to injury. Outside of games against USF and UConn (and their terrible offensive lines) the Bearcats had just 1 sack in the final six games of the year. Last years team was "bend but don't break" personified, which will suit the aims of Tuberville and his staff well. If UC can find some pass rush the defense could be better this year.
T-Mill: Purdue fans are too familiar with a quarterback rotation and it looks like Cincy uses one. Does coach Tuberville pick one or continue the quarterback rotation since it worked for 10 wins?
Matt: If there is a QB rotation this year it should be the last time that anyone allows Eddie Gran to call plays. Munchie started the year 2012, but he was completely unreliable and increasingly erratic, which lead to the ascent of Brendon Kay. Tubs is saying that the competition is ongoing, but it shouldn't be. Nothing that happened this spring suggests that Munchie has fixed any of his problems as a QB. It should be Brendon Kay's job unless uber talented red shirt freshman Bennie Coney sets the world on fire this summer, which is a plausible outcome, though not probable. Kay was brilliant down the stretch, particularly in the bowl game when he was uber efficient against an admittedly terrible Duke defense. But to my mind his greatest virtue was simply doing fewer stupid things than Munchie did per game. Thats a skill for a QB and the biggest reason why I think UC will wind up having a formidable offense, even if it doesn't end up being the kind of offense that causes defensive coordinators many sleepless nights.
T-Mill: This is Purdue's second trip to Cincinnati but first since 2001. What can fans expect?
Matt: If you happen to know someone who went to the last game at Nippert between UC and Purdue tell them to forget that experience. Going to a game at Nippert now is nothing like that experience. For a start I am pretty sure Purdue fans outnumbered UC fans in that game, that won't happen this year. The experience at Nippert completely transformed during my time at UC (started in 2004, class of 2010) As for what to expect, expect it to be loud, very loud, much louder than a 35,000 seat stadium has any right to be, particularly if it winds up being a night game. The Nip is set in a valley, surrounded by buildings on every side which has the effect of trapping noise in the stadium where it just sort of hovers there. The build up of campus has completely changed the vibe of Nippert from the way it used to look and feel. Oh I would also allot half and hour to an hour to walk around campus, there really isn't anything like it with the blend of modern and classical architecture.
T-Mill: Finally, a prediction?
Matt: It being over 100 days till kick off I won't make many specifics, but this is a game that I think UC should win. It being at home is reason enough for me, but I also think that UC is just generally more settled under Tuberville than they have been in previous transition years. Once it gets closer to August we can run this back and I might have more to say in my prediction.