Cincinnati 31, Vandy 24
Yeah, Cincinnati QB Zach Collaros threw two picks and failed to shake off the rust, but his presence alone, after suffering a serious injury in November, was a huge emotional factor in the Bearcats’ win.
Few players in the country gained more ground on draft boards this year than Bearcats DT Derek Wolfe. He was once again a beast on the inside for a defense that overachieved from the opening weekend.
Bowl games have a way of unearthing unlikely heroes. Cincinnati’s George Winn and Ralph Abernathy, who each scored touchdowns of at least 69 yards, for instance. It’s a very safe bet that neither factored prominently in Vanderbilt’s gameplan heading into the Liberty Bowl.
Vanderbilt fans should note that the older brother of erratic QB Jordan Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers, was a little late to bloom as well. Okay, so Jordan isn’t Aaron, but his trajectory doesn’t figure to be flat over the next two seasons.
Capped by the Liberty Bowl win over an SEC team—any SEC team—this wound up being a huge bounce back season for Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones, who was a pariah a year ago. With a 10-win season in the vault, he can now take a deep breath, and hit the recruiting trail with a little bit of goodwill in his back pocket.
By Matt Zemek
The Cincinnati Bearcats took the field with Zach Collaros back at quarterback. That development seemed to herald good things for coach Butch Jones’s team, but it became apparent that Collaros was not fully healed from his broken ankle, suffered on Nov. 12 against West Virginia. The seven-week layoff created a lot of rust, which made a physically limited signal caller an ineffective one as well. Collaros never looked or felt particularly comfortable in the pocket. As a result, it made sense to think that the Vanderbilt Commodores were going to carry the run of play (to use a soccer phrase) in the Liberty Bowl.
Instead, Cincinnati’s front lines and Isaiah Pead took over.
The true key to this contest was Cincinnati’s defensive line. The Bearcats’ front four swallowed Vanderbilt’s offensive line, thereby bottling up VU running back Zac Stacy and preventing the Commodores from sustaining many drives. Because Cincinnati controlled the ball for most of the first three quarters, the Bearcats were then able to lean on Vanderbilt’s tired defense in the fourth quarter. Vanderbilt’s defensive unit played well enough to win this game, but it stayed on the field too long due to the struggles of coach James Franklin’s offense. Pead was terrific throughout the Liberty Bowl, but he became unstoppable in the final 10 minutes, delivering the daggers that sealed sweet victory for Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ defensive line got this New Year’s Eve party started, and then the offensive front closed the sale in the final minutes. Now, the Bearcats have 10 wins just one year after a disastrous 2010 season. Not bad, Butch Jones. Not bad at all.
By Terry Johnson
Please follow me on Twitter @TPJCollFootball
- Cincinnati won this game because they wanted it more. After narrowly missing out on a BCS bid, the Bearcats left no doubt that they belonged in a better bowl by thrashing an SEC opponent.
- The Bearcats won this game by playing SEC-style football. They simply gave the Commodores a steady dose of Isaiah Pead, and said “stop us if you can”. Cincy’s front seven whipped the Vandy offensive line all night long, and proved exactly why they have the nation’s #6 run defense.
- Special teams continue to be an issue in bowl games. Vanderbilt appeared well on their way to winning this game after taking the lead early in the fourth quarter. However, once Ralph Abernathy took the ensuing kickoff to the house, the Commodores never recovered.
- Even though his pick six effectively ended the game - give a lot of credit to Vanderbilt QB Larry Smith for being prepared. After seeing his playing time diminished in recent weeks, Smith continued to prepare as though he was going to be the starter. As a result, Smith came off the bench and provided a spark for the struggling Commodore offense.
- Will the win against Vanderbilt be enough to help the Big East keep its automatic bid in future seasons? Maybe.
- The bigger question is, if Cincinnati keeps racking up 10-win seasons, will they eventually end up in the Big Ten.