Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pike an Unlikely Hero for Cincinnati

Before the start of the 2008 season, Cincinnati's best option at quarterback was a guy that ended up not being on the team. Ben Mauk led the Bearcats to a 10-3 record and a win in the Bowl over Southern Miss in 2007. Mauk's quest to gain eligibility for 2008 was denied.

Next up for the Bearcats at quarterback was Dustin Grutza, a senior who had served as Mauk's back-up in 2007 and had been Cincinnati's starter the previous two seasons. Grutza led Cincy to an easy win over Eastern Kentucky in the opener and then suffered broken leg late in the loss to Oklahoma the next week.

Pike replaced the effective Grutza and was less than spectacular in relief. He completed 3 of 11 passes for 21 yards and threw an interception. However, he was exceptional over the next two weeks against MAC foes Miami U. and Akron.

As a starter

He threw for 561 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in the two games before breaking his non-throwing arm against the Zips. Pike had surgery and missed the next two games.

When he returned, he struggled on the road against UConn, completing 10 of 27 passes for 136 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 40-16 loss to the Huskies. However, the game was close until UConn scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game.

Since then, Pike has managed the Bearcats' no-huddle spread attack effectively. Over the Bearcats next five games, he threw 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, and more importantly led Cincinnati to five wins and a Big East championship.

However, Pike had a bad game in his last outing at Hawaii, going 13-of-21 for 108 yards, a touchdown and two picks. Grutza came on in relief and led the Bearcats to a come-from-behind victory long after I had passed out on the couch in front of the TV.

Scouting Report

So how will Pike fare against the Hokie defense? The best pass defenses Pike has started against were UConn (No. 7), West Virginia (No. 38), Pittsburgh (No. 43) and South Florida (No. 44).

Obviously, Pike didn't play well against UConn, the best pass defense he faced. However, he had just returned from injury, so that was a factor. Pike didn't even play in the second half due to numbness in his left hand (on the arm he broke). He left the game with the Bearcats up, 13-10.

Here's the quote from Cincy WR Mardy Gilyard:

“He was hurting in the first quarter but he didn’t say nothing,” said UC wide receiver Mardy Gilyard. “He only mentioned it to me. In the second quarter, I could see him slowly getting up on some plays. He kind of shortchanged a couple of balls, not really trusting himself like he usually does so I knew something was going on.”

Against the other three defenses, he combined to complete 52 of 90 (57.8 percent) for 768 yards (256 per game), six touchdowns and an interception. Basically, he wasn't superb, but he didn't do anything to lose the game for Cincy.

Matchup with Virginia Tech

The Hokies, for all their struggles against the pass early in the season, ended up with the No. 15 pass defense in the country. In their final seven regular season games, only twice did the Hokies give up more than 200 yards passing in a game. They gave up 263 yards to BC in the ACCCG.

One thing about Pike that I like as a Hokie fan is he takes a lot of sacks. The Hokies have performed well against prototypical drop-back quarterbacks like Pike this year. They have been able to get pressure and force mistakes against drop-back quarterbacks.

Since the Bearcats don't have much of a run game, the defensive ends should be able to pin their ears back and go after Pike. The key to stopping a pass-first spread attack is to get pressure on the quarterback. That's why Oklahoma had so much success against Texas Tech.

The Hokies are definitely capable of stopping Cincinnati's potent passing attack. We have two great cornerbacks in Macho Harris and Stephan Virgil, who has made a name for himself this season. If we are able to get pressure on Pike rushing four, we will be fine.

Cincinnati's offense reminds me a lot of Kansas' from last year. The big difference is the Bearcats don't have a big, power running game like the Jayhawks did with Brandon McAnderson.

The Bearcats have already done to themselves what the Hokies go out to do every game on defense: Take away the run game and make them one-dimensional.

No comments: