NCF Nation: Curtis Young

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Being in the top 10 for the first time in school history is a nice accomplishment. But Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly says he hasn't really mentioned anything about it to his team.

"They know I'm not very impressed," Kelly said. "We're pleased that we've made that progress and that we can be a top 10 team. But our guys are not patting themselves on the back saying, 'Hey, we've arrived.' They understand they've got to play each and every week or they'll get beat, because we're not that good."

Kelly on Big East programs
Brian Kelly thinks the Big East has some young programs that are building toward something. He also comments on his program's facilities and commitment to winning.
Despite how well the Bearcats (4-0) have looked to start the season, Kelly insists that his team still has a lot of flaws. The offense, he said, needs to do a better job dictating the flow of the game and work in more balance with the run. The defense missed too many assignments against Fresno State. The kickoff return team needs improvement.

Still, how many teams would love to trade their problems for Kelly's? Surely Mike Haywood would. The first-year Miami of Ohio coach has to find a way for his 0-4 team to compete with the Bearcats this week. The RedHawks have given up an average of 41.8 points per game, while Cincinnati is averaging more than 43 per contest.

How efficient are the Bearcats on offense? Last week against Fresno State, they scored 28 points despite taking only 39 actual offensive snaps. That's a touchdown every 5.6 snaps. Even for a fast-paced no-huddle attack, that's hard to believe.

"In 19 years of coaching, you don't ever think you're going to go into a game and run 39 offensive plays and still be around to talk about wins," Kelly said. "We're built to move quickly, with bigger-chunk plays. We're not a ball-control offense. But we've got to make sure we give Tony Pike enough snaps."

Miami has a new quarterback in freshman Zac Dysert, who made his starting debut against Kent State and threw for 337 yards and rushed for 107. Kelly said the RedHawks will play with nothing to lose and will be motivated by this rivalry game.

Yet this matchup figures to be severely lopsided and could give Cincinnati a chance to work in some new guys and some players coming off injuries before going to South Florida on Oct. 15. Kelly said cornerbacks Dominique Battle (ankle) and Chris Williams (leg) are getting closer, but they may not play until the Bulls game. Marcus Barnett started at corner last week, and freshman Reuben Johnson could see more time this week.

Kelly said linebacker Curtis Young is making good progress from his knee injury but is probably a couple of weeks away. Linebacker Robby Armstrong is having knee surgery this week and is probably out for the season. Kelly mentioned sophomore Alex Delisi as one who could pick up the slack at linebacker.

Running back John Goebel, who missed the first four games with a hamstring injury, should see some time on special teams this week so he can be ready for the South Florida game, Kelly said.

What we learned in the Big East

September, 20, 2009

Posted by's Brian Bennett

What we learned from Week 3 in the Big East:

1. The Big East can hold its own: You want to make fun of a conference? Look to the ACC or the Big Ten, each of which has had several embarrassing losses. The Big East doesn't have any of those head-scratching defeats, and Saturday was a very good day for the league. The conference notched three wins over BCS opponents -- Cincinnati winning at Oregon State, Syracuse beating Northwestern and UConn prevailing at Baylor -- while Pitt throttled a solid Navy team. And the Big East's two setbacks were both respectable, as Louisville and West Virginia had fourth-quarter leads before falling on the road to Kentucky and Auburn, respectively.

2. Cincinnati needs to be taken very, very seriously: The Bearcats' win at Oregon State might not have garnered a lot of national attention, but it should have. The Beavers hadn't lost at home to a team outside the Pac-10 since 1996, and they came into Saturday ranked 24th in the coaches' poll. Cincinnati, despite missing one of its top defensive playmakers in linebacker Curtis Young, held Oregon State to just one touchdown in an impressive 28-18 victory. The defense is much stronger than most people anticipated, and the offense led by Tony Pike has a lot of answers. This team could easily be 5-0 heading into its game at South Florida, and it's worthy of top 10 consideration.

3. West Virginia is the only team that can stop itself: The Mountaineers have as much offensive talent as just about anybody in the country. They rolled up more than 500 yards at Auburn and appeared to overwhelm the Tigers early with their speed. But West Virginia simply is too mistake-prone to be an elite team right now, and six turnovers doomed it in Saturday's 41-30 loss. Jarrett Brown, who almost never turned the ball over in preseason practice, had four interceptions and a fumble, though not all of those can be blamed just on him. The Mountaineers now have 10 turnovers on the season to just three by their opponents; that definitely needs to be shored up if they want to contend for the Big East title.

4. This is not the same old Syracuse: Big East teams had better watch out for the Orange. They played hard the first two games against Minnesota and Penn State and finally broke through with an exciting 37-34 win over Northwestern on Saturday. The Greg Paulus experiment seems to be working, as he threw for 346 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, and this team is starting to believe in itself under Doug Marrone. The first-year coach has already brought the excitement back to the Carrier Dome, as fans aren't daring to leave early anymore. And with the next five games at home, Syracuse has a chance to tack on a few more victories.

5. Handoffs are better than hurry-up for UConn: So much was made in the offseason of Connecticut's new no-huddle attack. And the Huskies came out and struggled on offense their first two games. Well, UConn did what it does best on Saturday at Baylor, using the ground game to sustain physical drives. Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman each rushed for more than 100 yards for the second time in three games, and the Huskies led 27-7 at one point. Huddle or no huddle, this team's identity remains the same.

What to watch in the Big East

September, 17, 2009

Posted by's Brian Bennett

1. Cincinnati's defense vs. the Rodgers brothers: Shutting down Southeast Missouri State and Rutgers was nice. The real test for Cincinnati's rebuilt defense arrives this weekend against Oregon State and their two main playmakers, Jacquizz and James Rodgers. Quarterback Sean Canfield will easily be the best the Bearcats have faced this season, and the back line of the Cincinnati defense may be its most vulnerable area. The Beavers have given up five sacks already this year, so guys like Curtis Young and Ricardo Matthews could apply some pressure up front.

2. The Cincinnati passing game: We know that Pittsburgh could do nothing through the air against Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. Well, Tony Pike is no Bill Stull. The Beavers have given up 251 yards per game through the air this year already to lesser opponents. Can Pike keep up his stellar early-season play and silence the crowd in Corvallis?

3. Just Plains speed: All you ever hear about is the SEC's dominant speed. Well, West Virginia will come to the Plains with plenty of burners of its own, including Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin. Last year in Morgantown, the Mountaineers looked like the much faster team. Auburn has some impressive athletes on defense, but you can't hit what you can't catch. If West Virginia can eliminate some of the penalties and mistakes it had in the first two games, it should move the ball and put up enough points in this game.

4. The West Virginia defense vs. Auburn's running game: The Tigers have been unbelievable on the ground thus far under Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn, averaging 345.5 yards per game rushing. Those are Pat White/Steve Slaton kind of numbers and then some. How will West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel counter that with his three-man front, especially if top defensive lineman Scooter Berry is unable to go? The last thing West Virginia wants is for Jarrett Brown to be standing on the sideline while the Tigers run the ball at will.

5. Syracuse's grit: Are the Orange content to be a team that plays good opponents tough, like they did against Minnesota and Penn State? Or can they get over the hump, beat Northwestern and prove things have changed under Doug Marrone? The offense needs to open things up a little more. While Greg Paulus has been decent, Syracuse has scored seven points since halftime of the Minnesota game. And the defense will have a challenge against the Wildcats' multi-dimensional offense.

6. UConn's, uh, offense: Maybe Cody Endres is the spark UConn needs at quarterback. That is, if he's over the stomach bug that bothered him all week. The Huskies need something to get them going on offense, because the passing game once again looks anemic. Scoring in the teens is probably not going to cut it against Robert Griffin and Baylor. It's time for offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to show why he was hired.

7. Triple option near the three rivers: Navy befuddles many defenses with its triple-option offense. Pitt has seen it up close the past two years and did a good job shutting it down last year. But that 42-21 win in Annapolis came when the Midshipmen had quarterback issues; Ricky Dobbs is now in control under center and can run or pass. The Panthers' defense needs to tighten up some problem areas from last week at Buffalo in order to keep this one from being close.

8. Dion Lewis: The true freshman has been nothing short of spectacular in his first two college games. LeSean McCoy had a field day against Navy last season, and the Pitt offensive line should be able to open plenty of running lanes for Lewis. Are we in for yet another special performance?

9. Justin Burke's homecoming: The Louisville quarterback is from Lexington, Ky., and will be playing in his home city against Kentucky. He will not get a warm reception. Expect Kentucky to play press man-to-man against the Cardinals receivers, stack the box and force Burke to beat them throwing the ball. Burke doesn't have the strongest arm around, and he must constantly be aware of where the Wildcats' star cornerback, Trevard Lindley, is lining up. He must complete some deep balls to Scott Long or others to loosen up the defense for Victor Anderson.

10. Focus for South Florida and Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are playing their second straight no-name opponent (Florida International). For the Bulls, this is their third in a row (Charleston Southern). Both have big road games next week, Rutgers at Maryland and South Florida at Florida State. But they need to concentrate on the task at hand and put their outmatched opponents away on Saturday. If not, doubt will linger.

Big East stock report

September, 11, 2009

Posted by's Brian Bennett

I'm going to try something new here on Fridays, giving out a list of what's up and what's down in the Big East, along with how the races for the the league's offensive and defensive player of the year are shaping up. It's early, but this should be fun as the season goes along.

Stock up

1. Cincinnati: For obvious reasons. The Bearcats have cracked the Top 25 at No. 23 and could really climb high with a win at Oregon State next week.

2. Dion Lewis: The Pittsburgh back had a smashing college debut with 129 yards and three touchdowns. He could be a star in this league for a long time.

3. UConn's defensive ends: This position looked a little questionable after the departures of seniors Cody Brown and Julius Williams and the offseason dismissal of Marcus Campbell. But senior defensive end Lindsey Witten had three sacks and a safety at Ohio and showed he can be a full-time threat, while freshmen Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams also played well.

4. The Wildcat at Syracuse: They call it the Stallion package, but it's the same Wildcat formation just about every other school is using. Having Antwon Bailey and Delone Carter in the backfield at the same time with Bailey taking the snap added life to the Orange offense.

5. Julian Miller: Who needs Tevita Finau? The third spot on West Virginia's defensive line seemed like a concern going into the season, but Miller had other thoughts. He had 2.5 sacks against Liberty and brought a dose of speed to the Mountaineers' defensive front.

Stock down

1. Rutgers: For obvious reasons. No matter what the Scarlet Knights do the next few weeks, they won't have an opportunity to turn perception from that 47-15 beating until the Oct. 16 game against Pitt.

2. UConn fans: At last report, about 3,000 tickets remained for the North Carolina game. A team ranked 19th comes to town for the home opener, and the Huskies are having trouble selling out their 40,000-seat stadium? What's going on?

3. South Florida's Twittering: First, Jim Leavitt decided to stop tweeting after reports of his players and coaches doing so before the Wofford game. Now it seems that several players' accounts have either been shut down or switched to private. So much for embracing technology.

4. The Wildcat at Rutgers: They call it the Jabu package for quarterback Jabu Lovelace, but it's been so wildly ineffective since last year that it looks like it's time to scrap the project.

5. Steve Kragthorpe as offensive coordinator: Kragthorpe took over play-calling duties himself in the offseason and promised a new look. Fans didn't exactly like what they saw as Louisville scored only 30 points against Indiana State. Perhaps he's holding back the good stuff for next week at Kentucky. We can only hope that wasn't his best stuff last week.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati: Went 27-of-34 for 362 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1.

2. Jarrett Brown, QB, West Virginia: Completed 19 of 26 passes for 243 yards and ran for 69 yards and a score in the opener

3. Jordan Todman, RB, UConn: Ran for 154 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 win at Ohio.

4. Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh: See above.

5. Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida: Went 19-of-23 for 155 yards and one score with an interception and ran for 44 yards versus Wofford.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Lindsey Witten, DE, UConn: See above.

2. George Selvie, DE, South Florida: Got his first sack of the year versus Wofford.

3. Curtis Young, LB, Cincinnati: Had 11 tackles and a sack versus Rutgers

4. Reed Williams, LB, West Virginia: Relatively quiet day against Liberty (six tackles) but will be a factor in this race.

5. Aaron Webster, S, Cincinnati: Had 10 tackles and an interception at Rutgers.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

Fear not, Big East football fans. In less than a month, South Florida will be back on the practice field, with the rest of the league teams starting their spring drills shortly afterward.

There will be no shortage of situations to follow during the spring. There's a new head coach at Syracuse, new coordinators almost everywhere and no fewer than five teams seeking a new quarterback.

We've got all the story lines covered here in our team-by-team spring primer:

Cincinnati Bearcats

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

• Defense, defense, defense. Safety Aaron Webster is the only returning defensive starter from 2008, so this spring will be about finding out who's ready to step into bigger roles. Several backups have experience, including linebacker Andre Revels and defensive end Curtis Young. But all jobs should be open. And with this week's firing of defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, the Bearcats could be working under a new scheme.

• Cincinnati brings back quarterback Tony Pike, receiver Mardy Gilyard and its top two rushers in Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel. But the spring will be time to find new playmakers as well. Isaiah Pead averaged 6.6 yards a carry in limited duty as a freshman and should see his role increase. The bubble wrap will come off promising redshirt freshman Quentin Hines. Receiver D.J. Woods had a solid freshman season and will need to build upon that to help replace Dominick Goodman.

• You don't normally pay much attention to punters in spring practice, but this is an exception. The Bearcats have to find a suitable replacement for two time All-American Kevin Huber.

(Read full post)