After last week's disappointing road loss to UConn, some may have been close to throwing in the towel for the season, but fortunately the Bearcats weren't among them. Cincinnati bounced back with an impressive upset of the #24 ranked South Florida Bulls in front of a large supportive crowd at Nippert Stadium Thursday night.
My "Game MVP" goes to Connor Barwin even though Lamonte Nelms could make a strong argument with possibly the best game of his UC career. Barwin played the part of a 6' 4" thorn in the Bulls's side all evening making seven tackles to go with a tackle for loss, a pass break-up and countless pressures on USF quarterback Matt Grothe. Nelms was the beneficiary of one of those pressures when he intercepted the second pass in his career after Barwin batted the ball in the air late in the second quarter. Barwin also scored a Cincinnati touchdown on a one yard pass from Tony Pike to give the Bearcats a two touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter. The Bearcat defensive end is playing himself into becoming a first day NFL draft pick despite being a novice at the defensive end position.
My "Defensive MVP" goes to the entire Cincinnati defensive line. They were absolutely outstanding although Barwin, Nelms and Curtis Young may have led the way. One play late in the half helped to hammer that point home. After a UC turnover on a batted pass, Byrd pressured Grothe flushing him from the pocket, Barwin batted the Grothe pass into the air, and Lamonte Nelms got the pick to keep Cincinnati's ten point lead at the half.
Some may look at my "Offensive MVP" as a reach, but he certainly isn't in my mind. Despite Tony Pike hitting on 20 of 28 passes and further proving to me that he is the best quarterback on this roster, I chose Jason Kelce as my Offensive MVP. I have made the point on a few occasions that the last person UC can afford to lose on offense is Chris Jurek, and my worst fear was realized in the first half when Jurek left the game with an injury. Kelce moved from left guard to center and did a very adequate job. Tony Pike had to stay lose on some of the snaps, but Kelce deserves a lot of credit. I really haven't seen him taking too many snaps in practice since the Bearcats left Higher Ground. Ben Guidugli and Dominick Goodman deserve special mention for excellent one handed grabs as does John Goebel for picking up 78 yards on 17 carries.
The "Special Teams MVP" this week goes to Collin McCafferty. Even though McCafferty wasn't credited with a tackle after making a nice stop on the opening kickoff, he was constantly around the football throwing his body into wedge blockers clearing the way for others. That kid is absolutely fearless.
The Bearcat introduction onto the field was a magical moment that I thought set the tone for the entire evening. The video combined with a raucous crowd dressed in black with the addition of the fireworks worked everyone into a frenzy to start the game.
The "Most Shocking Call of the Night" was when Jim Leavitt decided to go for a fourth and one with the Bulls' third possession of the game at the USF 34 yard line. I thought the Bearcats got a really bad mark on the previous play. The replay showed that the ball should have been set at the 33 yard line, but the gamble by the USF head coach worked when the Bulls picked up the first down. In the fourth quarter, Leavitt's luck ran out when the Bearcat defense twice turned away the Bulls on downs down by the USF goal line.
The Bearcats followed what I believe is the blueprint to beating the Bulls. The Cincinnati defense tried to make Grothe beat them with his arm and not his legs although the South Florida junior did manage to escape smothering pressure a couple of times to pick up major yardage. But in the end, Grothe was only 13 for 31 with three interceptions.
There were plenty of recruits present for this one. Which recruits showed up to watch the Beacats beat USF in front of a national TV audience? You will have to go inside Inside the Lair to find out which highly rated recruits made their way to Nippert on Thursday night.