Ben Mauk wasn't his usual self Saturday, and the Bearcat offense as a unit wasn't clicking like they have most of the season. But, Mauk was certainly not the reason the Bearcats lost to Pittsburgh. He was 21-of-32 for 237 yards through the air, and even added 97 yards on the ground, including a 55-yarder on the first play of the game. Mauk did have one costly interception late in the game, but the Bearcats lost this game in the other facets of the game. Ben Mauk played well enough for the team to win.
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The rushing attack was non-existent Saturday against Pittsburgh. Butler Benton was held to just 42 yards on 12 carries and Greg Moore only had three rushes for six yards. Benton had a chance to give the Bearcats some breathing room on a fourth quarter drive, but had the ball punched out from behind and the Bearcats turned it over. It was very costly as the Panthers immediately drove for the go-ahead touchdown and the 'Cats never recovered.
Fairly or not, this unit has been heavily criticized this season. Saturday was not much better. There were four more false start penalties and starting center Chris Jurek was pulled early in the game after picking up his second infraction. The line was unable to open any holes for the running backs as they averaged just three yards per carry in the game. The best running play was the first play from Mauk for the 55-yard gain. Ben Mauk had time to throw for 237 yards, and was only sacked once, but was under heavy pressure and had to scramble a number of times.
It wasn't a stellar day for the receiving corps either Saturday. No one was able to get into the end zone and Domonick Goodman had a key fumble on UC's 22 yard line that led to a Pittsburgh field goal in the third quarter. The receivers were having trouble separating from the Panthers' defensive backs to get open due to the slow track at Heinz Field. And with the running game going nowhere, the air attack couldn't pick up the offensive effort.
For the first time all year, the defensive line was unable to shut down the opposing team's running game. The Panthers had two running backs tally at least 100 yards on the ground and averaged 5.7 yards per rush as a team. The defensive line was also unable to put any consistent pressure on Panther freshman quarterback Pat Bostick to rattle him. Most disappointing in the game was during the final minutes when UC knew Pittsburgh was going to run the ball; they still couldn't stop the Panthers from picking up crucial first downs and eating game clock.
Ryan Manalac, Corey Smith, and Andre Revels had 27 tackles between the three, but they were unable to help the defensive line shut down the Pittsburgh rushing attack. Also, too many times, the Panthers were able to throw underneath the linebackers and pick up first downs on what basically amounted to dump passes. It happened frequently in the Louisville game, and happened again Saturday against Pittsburgh.
Pat Bostick didn't have to throw much to beat the Bearcats. The focus of the Panthers was the rushing game, so the secondary wasn't the guilty unit Saturday. However, Bostick was able to convert on several key third-and-long situations. He found receivers open in the zone coverage and was able to keep the chains moving.
After a stellar start to the season, Kevin Huber has inexplicably lost his magic foot. It was common to see a 50 or 60-yard punt earlier in the season, but Huber stumbled during the Louisville game, and stumbled even more against Pittsburgh. He did have one punt go 50 yards, but in five punts only averaged 39.2 yards per kick. Jake Rogers had a chance to give UC a ten point lead going to halftime, but missed a chip shot 26-yard attempt and the Bearcats went to the locker room with just a seven point lead.
Brian Kelly said it himself; the team was not prepared to play this game. For some reason, they played flat and scared. It was as if they played not to lose instead of playing with that reckless abandon they had in the first six games. The offense couldn't make any big plays. The defense couldn't stop the run and tackled poorly. They lost a little swagger against Louisville. They lost a lot against Pittsburgh. They will need to regroup for the stretch run and this by week probably comes at a perfect time. They have a lot to fix and with South Florida, Connecticut and West Virginia still ahead on the schedule, they'll need to turn things around quickly.