Many are hoping the West Virginia game begins like it did last year...with a bang!
16 seconds into the game in Morgantown, Mardy Gilyard was in the end zone with the Bearcats first score, 100 yards and six points.
"It really set the tone for the game," said Coach Brian Kelly.
But if you missed it (and those of us at the chicken wing joint I was DID because someone ignorantly wasn't prepared to have the CINCINNATI game already switched on) you missed Mardy Gilyard entirely.
You see, beyond that kick return, UC's top receiver this year was non-existent on the stat sheet. Shutout, Zero catches.
"Coach Molnar (WR coach) is doing a good job of reminding me of that as well," said Gilyard. "I was kind of 'iffy' on reading coverages last year. 'Goody' did an excellent job doing what he needed to do. I couldn't get open! It was a little frustrating, but I'm a little bit better than what I was last year."
The grabs were made by guys that have either moved on or are not nearly as involved in the equation as Gilyard typically is.
Dominick Goodman had six catches (to be expected in '08), John Goebel had three, Kazeem Alli had a pair (including the game-winner in OT), Marcus Barnett had two, Jacob Ramsey had two, Ben Guidugli one, and Marcus Waugh one.
Needless to say, your distribution of receptions should be significantly different come Friday. Reason #1: it's doubtful Mardy Gilyard can be shutout two years in a row; and #2: the emergence of Armon Binns and D.J. Woods. In particular, Gilyard is amazed at some of the grabs Binns is making.
"Armon's the better of all three of us," said Gilyard. "He's been playing wide receiver the most-his whole life. He's got great hands, he jumps out of the gym, and he's just a mismatch problem. I'd been saying, leading up to the season, if I get doubled or the defense tries to 'X' me out, Armon's going to do his thing on the back end."
The "next man in" philosophy has fit Armon Binns to a tee, just as it has back-up/starting/back-up/starting QB Zach Collaros. Again, those that watched the Bearcats in spring and in pre-season are not shocked at the success of Binns or Collaros. Especially not Gilyard, who not only talked up the defense before the season, but was always repeating the phrase, "pick your poison".
"Zach's been the real deal all along," said Gilyard. "He's been doing the same stuff that everyone's been seeing on TV in practices and scrimmages. He runs the ball effectively in practices and scrimmages. (He) runs out and rolls around and does all that goofy stuff he does, eluding guys and dropping 'dimes' on receiver's front-side and back-side. He's been doing that forever now."
That is exactly why you can count Mardy Gilyard in the Brian Kelly camp when it comes to Tony Pike. Gilyard's been the recipient of many Tony Pike strikes and knows what the lanky lad can do, but with the team scoring efficiently with Collaros, they don't need to "rush him back" as they may have done last year going into the Connecticut game.
"I was talking to Pike this morning and I said, 'Hey, we're good-don't worry about rushing back,'" said Gilyard. "I can understand if we were struggling, but we're doing well. The competitor in Tony-he wants to get out there and play as fast as he can. I think he needs the teammates like me to say, 'Hey, relax 'bro. Make sure that you're OK because if you slip and fall 'bro and then you're hurt again, then what?' I told him, 'Make sure you get back 100%'."
Which means the guy that beat West Virginia last season, will be watching (at least for awhile) as Zach Collaros tries to move the chains on the 7-2 Mountaineers who come in ranked #23 in the coaches poll (USA Today).
"They're good," acknowledged Gilyard. "Offensive side of the ball-they've got athletes all over the place running all around. They've got Jock Sanders, Noel Devine, we have to control those guys."
What the Bearcats are hoping to avoid, is the fourth-quarter collapse again. It nearly happened against UConn last week and it did happen in Morgantown with less than two minutes to go. Suddenly a 20-7 lead became 20-9 after a safety was taken on purpose (?). Then WVU came back behind Pat White and scored and made the two-point to make it 20-17 with: 19 to go. Then the Mountaineers got the onside kick and Pat McAfee drilled a 52-yarder to send the game inexplicably to overtime.
From there, it was McAfee again on a short FG to give WVU their first lead 23-20. Then finally, Tony Pike and Kazeem Alli teamed up to stop the insanity with a TD connection to end it 26-23.
"That just shows the fight in West Virginia," said Gilyard. "They've been on top of the Big East forever. They're going to continue to be successful. They continue to bring those guys in at skill positions and at different positions that they need. They're going to continue to be that 'big dog', that big threat that can upset any team and that can also overwhelm the whole league."
While it's always advisable to stay in your seats and watch the whole game, here's hoping that you're not squirming as much as you were last week in those final minutes. Otherwise, Friday the 13th could turn out to be truly frightful