Matt over at SB Nation's Cincinnati Bearcats' blog Down the Drive participated in a Q&A on the upcoming game and here are his answers to some of our questions. Matt does a heck of a job with the blog and be sure to check out Down the Drive for my answers to their questions.
Cardiac Hill: Coming into this year, we knew Cincinnati's offense was going to be pretty good, but the defense has been a big surprise. They've not been lights out as the games against Tennessee and South Florida will attest, but other than that, they've held opponents to no more than 16 points in the rest of their games and are ranked 19th in scoring defense. Is this a matter of the Bearcats getting fat off of some weaker teams or is the defense really one of the top 20 in the nation in your opinion?
Down the Drive: Part of it is competition to be sure. The only truly competent offenses UC has faced have been Tennessee when Tyler Brey and Justin Hunter were both healthy and last week against South Florida. N.C. State is good throwing the ball, not good at much else. All that into consideration the defense is much improved. This off season I was telling anyone who asked that if the defense was merely average then 10 wins would be in play. So far through seven games the defense appears to be legitimately above average. Don't get me wrong, there are still issues with personnel and scheme, particularly in the secondary. But this defense has such an overwhelming front that they alone can kind of mask other deficiencies. Teams by and large just can't run against UC so they come into the game one dimensional. When UC is blitzing and playing an aggressive brand of Football this defense is a tough nut to crack. It's no coincidence that the USF and Tennessee games were the worst performances of the lot. They were also the games where the secondary sat back in a soft cover 2 for the majority.
Cardiac Hill: Zach Collaros is seen as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big East - second only maybe to Geno Smith. But over the past four games, he's struggled a bit, tossing six picks and only seven touchdowns (compared to seven TDs and zero interceptions in the opening three games). Part of that is probably due to competition, but is it really as simple as that? Have those interceptions been bad balls or is Collaros really not playing that bad?
It's hard to wrap up and pin Zach's turnover issues on one factor like the schedule, or having a bad game. As much as it is a cop out I would say that Zachs biggest problem over the last few games is simply that every once in a while Collaros just likes to do stupid shit. Forcing a skinny post into tripple coverage? Why not. Escaping a perfectly formed pocket to literally run into a defensive lineman? sure. Using a Farveian under hand flip not once, twice or three times but four times in one game, including the worst interception I have ever seen in my life? Absolutely. With Collaros you have to take the bad with the good, becasue no matter how bad things get when he decides to stop screwing around he can eviscerate any defense.
Cardiac Hill: Personally having witnessed the 2009 juggernaut (that Heinz Field game still haunts me), I don't think this year's offense rivals them. But you follow the team each week when I may only see them once or twice a year. Is this team any match offensively for that squad?
In a word no. This offense is very very good in it's own right. But that group was special because of how many players were capable of just taking over games. Mardy Gilyard would have these moments where he would basically not allow them to lose. But then you had Tony Pike and Armon Binns, the all timer great pinch hitting season with Collaros setting the world alight in a 4 game reign of terror. Isaiah Pead was just a young gun then, and he never started a game, but he single handedly took games over for stretches. Pead and Collaros are still in town, but this team doesn't have a difference maker at the receiver position on the order of Mardy and Binns. That is the biggest difference between the two for me.
Cardiac Hill: For Pitt to win this game, they'll need to score some points and also get pressure on Collaros. Pitt has a good defensive line and plays well against the run. Conversely, the Panthers' offensive line has been a patchwork of players due to injuries and a lack of quality depth. I literally know nothing about the Beacats' O-line, so fill me in.
The offensive line has very quietly turned into one of the best units in the Big East. Alex Hoffman and Sean Hooey are the two tackles and the best linemen on the team, both with probable futures in the NFL. Evan Davis is the center. He was a one game starter last year, but in that Fresno State game he got absolutely mauled and didn't start another game until this season. He has been a big surprise. The guards are Austen Bujnoch and Randy Martinez. Bujnoch is only a sophomore but he has a very bright future. As a group they are good, not quite as good as the 09 group which featured two guys starting in the NFL right now and Hoffmann who has a shot to get drafted. As a group they have had their fair share of injury issues, Hooey missed the USF and Louisville game with a banged up ankle, Hoffman played the fourth quarter against USF with a leg and Bujnoch had no legs. The bye week should do all these guys good. If Hooey can't go Eric Lefeld is likely to get the start.
Cardiac Hill: Okay, so the whole realignment thing - where do you see Cincinnati in the end? When it's all said and done (and let's be honest, conference reshuffling will never come to a complete halt), where does Cincy end up? In a renewed Big East, a new conference, or an independent? Where would you like them to end up?
I think UC sticks with the Big East. Not necessarily because thats where they want to be, but because that is the only option available. I would like to see them in the Big 12 but that is still nothing more than a long shot. I know that UC has been proactive behind the scenes with the Big 12 and would decamp in a heartbeat for the Big 12. The way I see it UC has all their cards on the table with Dallas, waiting for the call, and thats all that they can do at the moment.
Cardiac Hill: How do you see Saturday's game shaping out?
UC wins something like 35-17. Pitt has some weapons offensively and a defense that is bound to keep things interesting. But this game will come down to a pretty simple factor, UC can protect Collaros, but the Pitt offensive line that has been so decimated with injuries has no shot to keep Sunseri upright and effective against the UC defensive line.