Film Study: Cincinnati's Third-and-Long Prowess

We've really beaten the defense allowing 590 yards last Friday into the ground. It's fine to plan to give up yards, as long as you don't give up touchdowns and you get off the field when the opportunity presents itself. And all things considered, USF did a pretty good job limiting the damage from all those yards. They held twice inside the 5-yard line and also turned away the Bearcats twice on fourth-down conversions.

But they weren't as successful in third and long. In fact, Cincinnati converted five third downs with 10 or more yards to go, and they also had two fourth-down conversions. That's what I want to look at in this session. We know the Bearcats have a high-octane offense, but how much of that was their own execution?

Let's go through them each one by one and see what happened. Instead of putting a bunch of videos on here and dragging this post on forever, I've combined all seven conversions into this one video clip.

 

Commentary on each conversion follows after the jump:

 

Conversion #1: 3rd and 10, ball on Cincinnati 20, 12:10 left in second quarter. At this point USF led 14-3. They had scored on their last two possessions and if they can get another stop and another touchdown, they might have made the Bearcats panic. Cincinnati goes with a trips left shotgun spread and they run a play they ran a lot on Friday night - a comeback route at about 12 yards. Kayvon Webster appeared to read the play and could have broken up the pass to Marcus Barnett, but he slipped coming out of his break and lost position. Even though it wasn't a great pass by Zach Collaros, Barnett brought it in for a 17-yard gain.

Conversion #2: 3rd and 10, ball on USF 20, 9:46 left in second quarter. Same drive as above. The Bulls only had five defensive backs on the field against a trips right shotgun spread. That forced Jerrell Young to play man and made Mark Joyce the only safety out high. Armon Binns was the single receiver to the left, a good 30 yards away from the ball at the line of scrimmage. He put a stutter move on Webster and Collaros threw a perfect fade to him for a touchdown. Joyce got a late break on the ball, but he probably wouldn't have made it over there in time to break up the pass anyway. Cincinnati got a matchup they wanted and took advantage here with good execution.

Conversion #3: 3rd and 20, ball on Cincinnati 27, 1:32 left in second quarter. The Bulls lead 17-10 at this point. First of all, I'm surprised the Bearcats even tried to convert this one. If you throw an incompletion, USF gets the ball back with all three timeouts. And of course there's the risk of a turnover, which would make this an even worse decision in retrospect (a lot like the end-of-half call against West Virginia that ended up giving the Mountaineers free points). Trips right shotgun spread for the Bearcats. D.J. Woods is the inside receiver and runs into the right flat, taking Mistral Raymond with him a little bit, while Barnett and Ben Guidugli (split out wide) run straight up the field. It's an almost identical play to the one they ran in Conversion #2 to Binns for a touchdown -- a slightly different formation but the same routes being run. This time the throw goes to the right side instead of to the one-on-one matchup on the left.

Two problems with the defense on this play. First, I think you have to defend the first-down line here and figure the opponent won't be crazy enough to try a deep shot here. Webster backs up beyond the marker, and Barnett is able to slip in front of them and make a leaping catch right at 20 yards. Then to compound the mistake, Jon Lejiste and Webster crash into one another instead of wrapping up Barnett. He bounces away and heads up the sideline for a 69-yard gain. They are lucky it isn't a touchdown because Barnett decides to get cute and dive into the end zone, but he steps out of bounds at the 4. Of all the 3rd and longs Cincinnati converted, this was the most preventable. Fortunately it wasn't the most damaging one as well, because the defense was able to hold the Bearcats to a field goal, so they still led 17-13 at halftime.

Conversion #4: 3rd and 13, ball on USF 30, 14:08 left in third quarter. The Bulls had a 3-3-5 defensive set on the field against another trips right shotgun spread. That meant a linebacker was going to match up against one of the inside receivers, which happened to be Woods. Even worse, it was backup linebacker Curtis Weatherspoon trying to cover maybe Cincinnati's fastest offensive player, which is a mismatch in the Bearcats' favor. Woods beat Weatherspoon on an inside-outside move and Collaros found him for a 17-yard completion. Another favorable matchup taken advantage of by Collaros. There's a reason he threw for 461 yards.

Conversion #5: 4th and 6, ball on USF 32, 13:52 left in fourth quarter. The score is 31-16 USF at this point. Cincinnati lines up in a standard spread with two receivers on either side, and the Bulls blitz six while leaving a seventh man near the line to pick up Isaiah Pead, who stays in to block. This leaves the four defensive backs in coverage all matched up one-on-one. Marcus Barnett is at the top of the formation, with Mistral Raymond playing him tight at the line. Collaros is flushed out to his right and floats a deep pass to Barnett, who comes up with it just past the goal line for a touchdown.

Raymond looked really bad on this play, which doesn't happen often. In fact I think this might be the first time all year someone has beaten him deep. He guessed wrong on which direction Barnett might go, setting up inside to try and take away a slant, and then seeing Barnett go outside on him to get a half step. Then Raymond gambled again. He tried to turn around and jump up for the ball, but completely mistimed his move and ended up spinning himself to the ground. The ball cleared his outstretched hand and landed in Barnett's.

Conversion #6: 4th and 8, ball at USF 26, 5:57 left in fourth quarter. The Bulls lead 38-23 here. Cincinnati goes with a trips right shotgun spread. USF rushes only three and plays a two-deep man coverage. Even with a three-man rush, Patrick Hampton successfully gets pressure on Collaros, forcing him to scramble. He makes a move on Weatherspoon near the first-down line and picks up 11 yards. Sam Barrington jars the ball loose on the play, and Weatherspoon is waiting for the ball to come down to him for the recovery. But Jason Kelce, the center, makes a huge hidden play. He charges in to try and catch the ball, preventing Weatherspoon from getting it. Kelce muffs the catch, but the ball rolls toward a pile and Marcus Barnett ends up recovering the fumble. Cincinnati would score on the next play to reduce the USF lead to 38-30. 

Conversion #7: 3rd and 19, ball at USF 20, 2:47 left in fourth quarter. We already talked about this play, but now you can see the video proof that Pead didn't actually get this first down. Raymond wasn't quite in position to make a standard tackle, so I understand why he tried to wipe Pead's legs out from under him. It just didn't work.

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Sure, there were a couple of mistakes, but I think the majority of these were just outstanding execution by the Cincinnati offense. They made a bunch of plays... fortunately, not enough of them to win the game.

I'll have another Film Study tomorrow just to review the Faron Hornes touchdown. There was a lot of stuff that happened on that play.

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