The Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers in front of a record crowd of 35,098 at Nippert Stadium on Saturday night, inching themselves one step closer to their ultimate goal - - a BCS Bowl birth.
It's hard to look in just one direction when you try and determine who the most valuable was. Despite giving up two late touchdowns, the Bearcat defense did a great job of containing the Pittsburgh attack. LeSean McCoy, who came into the game as one of the nation's leading rushers, was held to just 82 yards on 17 carries.
The Bearcats knew if they could contain McCoy that their chances to win would increase greatly, and despite allowing McCoy to break loose on the first drive of the game, they were able to accomplish their ultimate goal.
The Bearcats secondary, even without their All American Mike Mickens, did a very respectable job of containing the Pittsburgh passing attack. Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Stull completed just 18 of his 28 passes, and Brandon Underwood corralled a late interception to all but seal the victory.
Despite missing Mickens, Coach Brian Kelly was confident in his secondary to get the job done.
"Brandon Underwood stepped up, next man in, and did a tremendous job playing the corner position," said Kelly.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bearcats were able to execute their game plan to near perfection. Not only were they able to move the ball, but they were also able to keep the clock running. The Bearcats held the ball for over 34 minutes.
A huge part of that was the play of quarterback Tony Pike, who completed 26 or 32 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown. He also led the Bearcats ground attack with 9 carries for 45 yards. Pike said he just felt comfortable out there and he had plenty of confidence in his teammates to get the job done.
"Coming into the game, we knew they were going to pressure us," said Pike. "I think we were able to burn them earlier. They went into a more of a zone defense, and we were able to execute. It definitely felt smooth out there tonight. Once again, coming into the game we had a game plan for anything that they had. We knew they were coming off a bye week so they would have plans. Our receivers did all the week, and it is easy when they run routes and get passes."
The receiving core for the Bearcats deserves a ton of credit for their determination, especially Dominic Goodman and Mardy Gilyard.
Goodman caught 7 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown in the second quarter gave him sole leadership atop the all time receiving touchdowns list in Cincinnati History. Goodman says he felt honored to be a part of something that special.
"It was a great felling. When we were down there, said Goodman. "I thought coach was going to call my number. First one, I missed, and then the second one was good."
Mardy Gilyard also added 8 grabs for 110 yards and a touchdown, including the one that put the Bearcats well out in front.
After the game, Head Coach Brian Kelly said he could feel a special atmosphere in Nippert Stadium, and was glad the Bearcat fans came out to support their team.
"I felt it when we came in to the stadium. When we ran onto the field, I could feel something different and special about the atmosphere in Nippert Stadium. You then get into the flow of the game. It becomes the next play and situation. Obviously, Cincinnati came out and supported us. It was great."
The Bearcats are no doubt ecstatic after their win, but must remain focused and get to work on making sure they avoid any sort of letdown when Syracuse comes to town for senior night next weekend.