The three-game round robin between Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers may still determine the Big East championship, but some of the luster is gone after the MAC bit the Big East again this season as Toledo upset previously undefeated Cincinnati last week.
The Bearcats will try to rebound this week with they face undefeated Louisville for the Keg of Nails, but the prospect of a Friday night marquee matchup between undefeated teams is long gone. Louisville and Rutgers remain unbeaten, but while the Cardinals face the Bearcats, the Scarlet Knights -- like Cincinnati a week ago -- catch another MAC team with only one loss.
Other Week 9 Previews and Predictions
Big East’s Top Storylines to Watch in Week 9:
Where does the Cincinnati defense go without Walter Stewart?
Last week, Cincinnati missed defensive end Walter Stewart, a contender for Big East defensive player of the year, in the loss to Toledo, although the Bearcats’ offensive inconsistency may have been more to blame for the 29-23 loss. Either way, Cincinnati will have to put the pressure on Teddy Bridgewater this week without their star pass rusher. Stewart will miss this week’s game against Louisville as he gets a second opinion on what’s been described as an “upper body injury.” Dan Giordano, the starter on the other side of the line, is a veteran, but he has only 2.5 sacks this season, tied for the team lead. Fellow end Elijah Shuler, Stewart’s replacement, is a junior college transfer.
Will Louisville’s newfound pass rush continue against he mobile Munchie Legaux?
Led by end Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville had five sacks two weeks ago against Pittsburgh and four last week against USF. Against Pitt and sack-prone Tino Sunseri, that wasn’t a huge surprise, even though Louisville managed only five sacks in the first five games. However, last week, the Cardinals limited USF quarterback B.J. Daniels to zero rushing yards (he gained 34 and lost the same on sacks). Cincinnati’s Munchie Legaux can move a little bit, but he’s also liable to make a mistake while on the run.
Where did Louisville’s run game go?
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater led Louisville in rushing last week with 74 yards on 10 carries, the best day of his career in the ground game. That’s great, but it’s probably not what the Cardinals want their star quarterback to be doing on a regular basis. Senorise Perry (11 carries, 27 yards) and Jeremy Wright (11 carries, 29 yards) had trouble breaking the big play against USF, though each contributed a rushing touchdown. Perry, especially, had been a key player for the Cardinals with back-to-back 100-yard games with six touchdowns against Southern Miss and Pittsburgh. Charlie Strong may want to get back to that balance and take some of the pressure off Bridgewater.
Why should Rutgers be on upset alert against the Big East’s new nemesis, the MAC?
The Big East has gone 4-3 against the MAC this season with Cincinnati losing to Toledo, Connecticut losing to Western Michigan and USF losing to Ball State. All of those losses occurred on the road, but this is not a trend the Big East can afford to continue as it tries to rebuild its image. Rutgers faces Kent State at home, but this is not the typical Golden Flashes team. Under former Scarlet Knights and Ohio State assistant Darrell Hazell, Kent State is 6-1 and 4-0 in the MAC. Rutgers will need to be alert in all phases of the game. Dri Archer leads the nation in all-purpose yards (687 rushing, 278 receiving, 11 touchdowns from scrimmage, one touchdown pass and three kickoff returns for TDs). His game isn’t all that different from FIU’s T.Y. Hilton, who torched Rutgers in 2009 and Louisville a year ago. On defense, Kent State has an undersized but disruptive defensive tackle in Roosevelt Nix (18 career sacks, nine forced fumbles). Kent State lost 47-14 to Kentucky in the second week of the season, so the record might not be as good as it looks, but there’s plenty here to concern even an undefeated Rutgers.
Which run defense will show up for Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh is getting healthier in some spots (linebackers Todd Thomas and Dan Mason) and getting banged up in others (linebacker Manny Williams). That means plenty of questions against Temple’s run-oriented offense led by Montel Harris and quarterback Chris Coyer. As up-and-down as Pitt has been on offense, it’s been the same against the run. Pitt allowed Louisville to rush for five touchdowns two weeks ago but held Virginia Tech to 59 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Pitt’s run defense has been something of a barometer for the Panthers season -- Pitt is 0-3 when allowing a rushing touchdown and 3-0 when keeping runners out of the end zone. That’s going to be tough against Temple.
Has Syracuse turned a corner or is Connecticut just that bad?
Syracuse hasn’t won consecutive games in a year and hasn’t won consecutive Big East games in two. There’s a chance to change that this week when the Orange face struggling USF. Syracuse was dominant against Connecticut at home last week, putting up 500 yards for the third time this season. It was the most complete game of a season that’s included a 42-41 shootout with Northwestern, a sloppy 17-10 loss to Minnesota and a 14-13 defensive struggle with Pitt. Did a 30-point win at home help Syracuse build some confidence? The numbers should point to quarterback Ryan Nassib, the Big East leader in total offense, feasting on the worst defense in the conference, but these two teams have not been predictable through the first two months this season.
Week 9 Big East Predictions:
Week 9 Big East Games
Cincinnati at Louisville
Temple at Pittsburgh
Kent State at Rutgers
Syracuse at USF
by David Fox
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