NCF Nation: Brock Bolen

Late-night Big East tidbits

November, 17, 2008

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Wrapping up some news and notes from the Big East today:

  • Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike should be fine to start Saturday's huge game against Pittsburgh, Bearcats coach Brian Kelly said. Pike got knocked out of last week's game at Louisville with a bruised sternum in the fourth quarter. Kelly said Pike could have come back to play if the game had gone longer.
  • Speaking of that Cincinnati-Louisville game, Cardinals coach Steve Kragthorpe said he talked with Big East director of officials Terry McAulay, who told him that the replay which overturned Brock Bolen's apparent first down run in the fourth quarter was wrong. The Cardinals then went for it on fourth down and failed.
  • Deposed Syracuse coach Greg Robinson tried to deflect attention from his situation during the Big East coaches' teleconference today, saying he wanted to focus on the Orange's remaining two games.

    "I told the team, it's not about me, it's about our team," he said. "At the end of the year, we'll spend a lot more time talking about shoulda, coulda, woulda kinds of things."

    Other coaches spoke highly of Robinson, none more so than West Virginia's Bill Stewart.

    "Greg Robinson is a friend of mine," Stewart said. "Greg Robinson is a class act. Greg Robinson is a heck of a football coach. I absolutely hate it with all my heart to see such a class man leave the Big East."
  • Rutgers' long snapper Jeremy Branch needs knee surgery, which would end his year, but he's a senior and he may decide to play through pain. Greg Schiano was also asked about President-elect Barack Obama's call for an eight-team playoff.

    "I think there's a place (for bowls)," he said. "I don't think you get into a full blown playoff. I know eight teams has been a popular number. I think four is plenty, and using the current bowl system. That's really my opinion. You rotate within the BCS, whatever it is that group of bowl games are, with the top four teams -- 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3. And then you play a week later. Obviously, five, six and seven will be angry but I don't think there's any perfect system. Actually, this one is not bad because people are talking about it now. People are talking about it in diners and bars and classrooms and all over the place about college football, so it makes for a great debate."
Posted by's Brian Bennett

Nothing has determined the outcome of the South Florida-Louisville series quite like geography.

In their five meetings since 2003, the home team has won every time, and usually quite convincingly. The Bulls have taken the last two in Tampa by a combined 69 points, including last year's 55-17 beatdown. Louisville, meanwhile, has crushed South Florida by a combined score of 72-17 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, site of the series' latest installment Saturday.

Why has this series been so lopsided in favor of the home team?

"That's a good question," USF senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said. "The good thing is, somebody's going to have to break the streak, and hopefully it's us."

The No. 16 Bulls are more concerned with stopping another trend this weekend. More so than home turf, the ground game seems to determine success or failure for South Florida.

Sure, the team has good statistics against the run this year, allowing only 77.3 yards per game and leading the Big East in that category. But the truth is, none of the Bulls' early opponents put much effort or skill into running the ball. The best nonconference team they played, Kansas, made no pretense of handing it off.

Then Pittsburgh came into Raymond James Stadium and ran for 146 yards -- 142 of them by LeSean McCoy -- in a 26-21 win. Even last week against Syracuse, the Bulls gave up 100 yards rushing in the first half to Curtis Brinkley before dominating the second half.

In three of South Florida's four losses last year, opposing running backs had big days. Rutgers' Ray Rice had 181 yards when the Scarlet Knights ended the Bulls' unbeaten season. UConn's Andre Dixon compiled 167 yards the following week in another loss. And in Oregon's 56-21 blowout of the Bulls in the Sun Bowl, Jonathan Stewart amassed 253 yards.

Now comes Louisville, which is averaging 210 yards rushing per game, led by Victor Anderson and Brock Bolen.

"After the Pittsburgh game, I'm sure everyone will try to run the ball on us," senior linebacker Brouce Mompremier said. "We accept that challenge. We love that type of game, that physical game. I've always felt we were a good run defense."

The Bulls say McCoy's big day was an aberration, because injuries to guys like George Selvie, Terrell McClain and Mompremier left them undermanned. The Syracuse second half, in which the Orange mustered nine total yards, is more indicative of what the defense can do at full strength, they believe.

"We were missing a couple of guys, but now we're getting healthy again," McKenzie said. "I hope they try to run the ball down our throats and come out with a game plan to get your nose bloody. That's what football is all about anyway."

Here's their chance to prove they can stop a high-powered rushing attack, and defy the geography rules of this series.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

You'll probably sense a pattern here. Star running backs versus solid defenses will be the story in all three Big East games this weekend. Those story lines top our 10 things to watch:

1. Victor Anderson and Brock Bolen vs. the South Florida run defense: The Cardinals are averaging 211 yards rushing per game, which is 18th best in the nation. Anderson is the speed and Bolen the power, making it tough for defenses to key on either one. South Florida got chewed up on the ground by LeSean McCoy and Curtis Brinkley for more than 100 yards each in its last two games. The more Louisville can run, the better its chances of pulling off the upset.

2. Matt Grothe and his receiver circus against the Louisville defense: The last time the Cardinals faced a true spread offense, they surrendered 481 total yards at Memphis and needed three non-offensive scores to survive. South Florida is the epitome of spread; Grothe has spread it around to 15 different receivers this season, has a plethora of running backs and can tuck it and take off himself. Louisville's defense is much-improved but hasn't seen an offense this varied and talented all season.

3. The Connecticut quarterback situation: Zach Frazer is a game-time decision for the Huskies with a head injury. That doesn't sound promising. If he can't go, the responsibility falls to inexperienced redshirt freshman Cody Endres. Cincinnati has one of the best secondaries in the country, so even Frazer would be challenged to hit deep passes on Saturday. How does Randy Edsall handle the offense if Endres is called upon?

4. Donald Brown vs. the Cincinnati run defense: The simplest answer for UConn will be to put the ball in the hands of their star running back, who leads the nation in rushing and has gone over 100 yards in every game. Cincinnati is allowing only 94.5 rushing yards per game, but the Bearcats have yet to face a top-flight tailback this season.

5. Tony Pike: The Cincinnati quarterback returns after missing two games with a broken non-throwing arm. He played extremely well in his first two career starts, but the opposition -- Akron and Miami (Ohio) -- was not as good as what he'll see on Saturday. Will Pike be rusty, and can he take a hit, or several hits, on that arm?

6. LeSean McCoy vs. the Rutgers run defense: McCoy has been on fire, posting three straight 100-yard rushing days, including 156 yards in a little more than a half last week at Navy. The Pitt offensive line has gotten better and better each week. But Rutgers' rush defense has been strong this season and has held Navy's Shun White, West Virginia's Noel Devine and Brown well under their season averages. Whoever wins this battle will have a large say in the final outcome.

7. Jonathan Baldwin: If Pitt gets stonewalled running the ball, it can always go over the top to its emerging star at receiver. The true freshman has hauled in long touchdown passes the past two weeks and is doubly dangerous because teams have to respect the play-action to McCoy. Look for him to become a major part of Pitt's game plan.

8. The Pitt pass rush vs. Mike Teel: The Panthers' defensive line has gotten all kinds of penetration the last few weeks and made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Teel has had a miserable season as it is, and the unsettled Rutgers offensive line means he could be running for his life against guys like Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus.

9. Special teams: With three games that could be close, special teams might play a major factor this weekend. Connecticut has made mistakes in the kicking game the past two weeks in its losses, while Louisville has scored special teams touchdowns its past two games. And Rutgers will have to get good play there in order to have a chance at the upset.

10. Greg Robinson. The Syracuse coach will remain on this list, especially amid reports this week that athletic director Daryl Gross is already working on finding his replacement (Gross subsequently denied those reports). It wouldn't seem to make sense for Gross to fire Robinson on the weekend after a bye week, but this situation has and remains volatile and worthy of watching.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Here's our own ocho-cinco: Five things we learned from Week 8 in the Big East:

1. Pittsburgh is the team to beat in the league: It wasn't a conference game, but the Panthers announced themselves as the Big East frontrunner in a thoroughly impressive 42-21 win at Navy. This is a team that continues to get better, is finding more weapons on offense and getting nastier on defense. Whether they can keep playing at this level every week remains a large question. But if so, no other team in the league is as complete in all three phases of the game.

2. South Florida is devastating when it wants to be: The Bulls have an annoying habit of playing down to their competition and mailing in long stretches. But when they're fully engaged, look out. After leading Syracuse by just eight points at halftime Saturday, South Florida outscored the Orange 24-0 in the second half as the defense allowed no first downs and just nine yards. Yes, nine. If South Florida can only figure out how to keep the throttle down, it could rip through the rest of its schedule.

3. Rutgers will have to be reckoned with: Let's not get too crazy about the Scarlet Knights' win over Connecticut. They only scored 12 points. Still, the defense has now allowed 23 points in the last two games, and Rutgers had chances to beat West Virginia and Cincinnati on the road. This 2-5 team won't win the league and probably won't even go bowling. But the Scarlet Knights won't be an automatic win on the schedule for anybody, either.

4. Connecticut needs more offensive wrinkles: Star running back Donald Brown carried the Huskies throughout the first half of their season, but he alone has not been enough the past two games. UConn has mustered 22 points total in its two-game losing streak and attempted only five passes in the first half at Rutgers. Bad field position and poor special teams play have hemmed in Randy Edsall's team. But if the Huskies want to get back in the Big East race, they've got to find a way to score more points.

5. Louisville's strength is its running game: The Cardinals virtually abandoned the run at times last season, but this year the run is the No. 1 option. After falling behind 14-0 to Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, Louisville took control by going to the ground, accumulating 247 of its 391 total yards by handing off to guys like Victor Anderson (161 yards) and Brock Bolen (three touchdowns). That sets up an interesting matchup this week with South Florida, which has allowed two straight 100-yard rushers.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

 Andy Lyons/Getty Images
 Brock Bolen makes a run during Louisville's game against utah on Oct. 5, 2007.

It sounds like a college student's worst nightmare. The summer before your senior year, your parents decide to move in with you.

That's what happened to Louisville running back Brock Bolen. His father, Jim, and mother, Gail, left their home in Springboro, Ohio, this May and started boarding with Brock. And Brock couldn't be happier about it.

"It's great," he said. "It's like living back at home with no worries. During camp, I don't have to worry about mowing the grass, and if I need to eat my mom will cook me some food. After a tough day at football, it's nice to get back to some family."

The Bolens aren't like most families. Their patriarch is a former Green Beret who once worked as a bounty hunter in Africa and later served as Hustler publisher Larry Flynt's personal valet. Jim Bolen has been in more fistfights than he can remember, was busted by the feds on an international gun-running charge and got rich as a self-made businessman before losing most of his savings when the housing bubble burst.

No wonder, then, that his son turned out so tough. Brock Bolen is a 6-foot, 238-pound bulldog, a tailback/fullback hybrid in the mode of former Rutgers star and current St. Louis Rams running back Brian Leonard. Bolen is one of the most underrated and maybe most underutilized skill players in the Big East, averaging better than 5.5 yards per carry in his two seasons at Louisville.

He should have a bigger role this year as new Cardinals offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm looks to emphasize the power running game. In last year's finale against Rutgers, Brohm --- then the quarterbacks coach --- and head coach Steve Kragthorpe took control of the play-calling from Charlie Stubbs, who was let go after the season. Bolen ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns that night, including a career-best 55-yard gain.

"He's done a great job at tailback for us and a great job in pass protection and blocking as well," Brohm said. "He's definitely going to be one of our main guys in the backfield and a great leader for us."

He's certainly got a strong support system at home. Brock lives with his parents, his older sister, Stephanie, and his longtime girlfriend, Haley Smith, in a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house in southwestern Louisville. The Bolens bought the house when Brock transferred to Louisville from Illinois in 2005.

Jim and Gail didn't plan on living there with their son, but they had the misfortune of starting a housing development project just before the market went south. They were forced to sell their 8,400-square foot home outside of Dayton, Ohio, to pay creditors.

"Normally you'd talk about something like this and it's a horror story," Jim Bolen said. "But it's been absolutely great because we're a very close family. We have badminton tournaments here every night, we play cards and all kinds of games and we cook together. Brock's really happy. Then again, it's our house, so he has no choice."

They came to Louisville to watch Brock play his final season, hoping he'll make a Mike Alstott-like impact in the NFL. Meanwhile, Jim used his unexpected unemployment time to pen his memoir, titled "No Guts, No Glory: My Incredible Life as a Brawler, Soldier, Mercenary, Bouncer, Bodyguard, Businessman and All-Around Nice Guy."

Among his many stories in the book, the elder Bolen recounts his years as the leader of a top-secret reconnaissance team during the Vietnam War. On one mission, in November 1968, Bolen was attempting to tap a communications wire in Cambodia. But his helicopter dropped him right in the middle of enemy camp, drawing immediate fire.

The chopper took off, with Jim still attached to the rappelling rope. He was dragged through the jungle at 60 m.p.h., bouncing off trees and avoiding artillery shells while nervously watching his fraying rope. The helicopter flew over a U.S. encampment when the rope snapped, sending Jim hurtling through the canvas of an armored personnel carrier. The sleeping American soldiers, startled by someone dressed in all black that had just dropped into their vehicle from the sky, proceeded to beat him senseless.

And that's one of his tamer tales. Bolen worked as a contract killer in the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and still carries around grizzly photos of the men he shot there. He escorted Flynt through parties at the Playboy mansion and accompanied best-selling author Harold Robbins along the French Riviera. He also spent time behind bars for his numerous bare-knuckle brawls and other misdeeds. In 1978, he was caught in an ATF sting after hatching a plot to run guns to Africa with an undercover agent. He received three years' federal probation

"My wife has been after me for 15 years to write a book, and she thinks my life story would make a good movie," said Jim Bolen, who expects the book to be ready for sale by the end of this month. "The main reason I wrote it is for my kids and my grandkids, so that they can remember some of my adventures. It would be nice if it generated some money, too."

Brock knows his father's life story, of course. But after reading the book, he said, "I hadn't heard some of those stories before."

It will be easy for him to catch up on the family history this fall. He just has to ask one of his roommates.