To gain an inside perspective on the Cincinnati football team, the Daily reached out to our counterparts at The News Record, the student-run newspaper at the University of Cincinnati. On Thursday, we spoke on the phone with Jason Szelest — the sports editor at The News Record — to talk about the upcoming game between No. 8 Michigan and the Bearcats.
Here’s a look into our conversation:
The Michigan Daily: What was the immediate reaction over there after playing a team like Austin Peay pretty close in that opener?
The News Record: I’d say the immediate reaction was disappointment. When you look at what we had last year — last year was a very disappointing season for us. Lot of high expectations that were not even close to met, finished with a 4-8 record and really just looked listless throughout most of the season. I think a lot of people were thinking that (former head coach) Tommy Tuberville was the problem and then, while no one was expecting (current head coach Luke) Fickell to take us 12-0 in his first season, they were expecting to see some sort of improvement; and I really don’t think that anyone saw improvement in what we put out there last Thursday.
TMD: Is there something in particular from your perspective that went wrong against them in the opener. Was it an energy thing?
TNR: Oh, I absolutely think it was an energy thing. I mean, we don’t have the most talented roster, but we have a roster good enough to put a team like Austin Peay — who I believe has lost 28 straight games at the FCS level — we had enough talent that we should have put them away early and then never let off the gas pedal. I believe defensively we gave up almost 200 yards rushing and offensively we didn’t get a push, and that’s not a talent thing, that’s an effort thing. And I don’t think that we really had the energy and enthusiasm needed to play a college football game, and I think a lot of that was because of the fact that we were looking at a team that we knew wasn’t going to be too good and thought we could just coast by.
TMD: So coming into Michigan — Michigan just jumped to (No. 8) — I saw that quote in your story, the “shock the world” quote, is that a soundbite or is that the general feeling you’re getting around their facilities, that they actually are confident coming into this one?
TNR: It’s hard to say ‘cause, when you look at someone like Luke Fickell — I think he’s a very confident coach in general — obviously he has had success against Michigan in the past. He knows that he doesn’t have the roster that he had at Ohio State, obviously, but I think he wants to put across the mentality that it doesn’t matter who UC is playing. He said it multiple times. He doesn’t care who the opponent is, he’s worried about what UC does, and I feel that he believes it, to some degree at least. That if we do what we need to do, we can still come away successful.
TMD: So in order to pull off the upset, what is one thing that you think Cincinnati really needs to lock down on?
TNR: No question about it. I’d say there’s two things: running game and running defense. If our run defense performs the way they did against Austin Peay, Michigan will run for 500 yards on us. The way that Michigan’s offense is designed, with a power running game like that, we have got to stop that. We have got to make (redshirt junior quarterback Wilton) Speight throw the ball. That is our only chance at victory. Speight, I still say, is a decent quarterback, but I’d much rather put the ball in his hands than have to deal with Michigan’s running game the entire time. Offensively, (running back) Mike Boone is our most talented player, hands down. On the entire team, he’s the guy that has to be a playmaker. I would be absolutely shocked if we were able to just power down Michigan’s throat, through the tackles, so I think we need to come up with more dynamic ways of getting him involved in the offense. I think maybe lining him up in the slot a little bit, just trying to get him on the edge and get some perimeter blocking going because we are not going to just shove it down Michigan’s throat every play and get four or five yards a carry. That’s just not going to happen.
TMD: I’m curious about Hayden Moore. I want to say now he has two years of starting under his belt, am I wrong there?
TNR: Sort of two years. His freshman season, he came in for an injured Gunner Kiel and kind of took over. Then obviously Gunner had a situation where he left the program before the bowl game and then Hayden Moore started. Gunner had sort of come back and taken the job over again when he got healthy, but when he left the program, Hayden Moore got to start the bowl game as well his freshman year. So I’d say he started maybe six, seven games his freshman year. Last year, Hayden Moore was named the starter at the beginning of the season and he played throughout the majority of the start of the year then got hurt. When he came back, he wasn’t really all that effective and he was kind of battling between Gunner Kiel and Ross Trail for the starting position later on in the year. So he has started games in two years, but he’s never had a full season where he’s started every game.
TMD: Either way, that’s a collection of experience that he has going against a Michigan secondary that, for the most part, doesn’t really have any, so is he the type of player that can be an X-factor or is he the type of quarterback that will be serviceable?
TNR: Honestly, that’s the question a lot of UC fans ask because the first game Hayden Moore ever played was against Memphis when Gunner Kiel went down. As a freshman — never playing a snap of college football in his life — in about three quarters, he threw for 550 yards and five touchdowns against Memphis. Though he can be that playmaker, the X-factor, the bottom line is, since that time, it seems like he’s more concerned about making mistakes and not just being that player that I think he can be. So at this point in his career, I’m more concerned with Hayden Moore being serviceable and not turning the ball over against Michigan.
Jason’s Prediction: Michigan 38-10 Cincinnati