No. 4 Cincinnati Proves that "Weak" Conference teams Belong in Playoff!
Now to our game...
Who said the playoffs would prove the "big boys" were superior? After first round victories by TCU and Boise State it was up to Cincinnati to prove that even without their coach who was now in control of Notre Dame, they could compete against one of the all time top coaches of NCAA football.
Joe Paterno took his No. 13 ranked Penn State into a game that he said "Has much more meaning than the Rose Bowl loss to USC the previous year!" Paterno was seen on the side line very intensely directing his team in a game he said, "had all the excitement of a BCS National Championship game. I'd like to start winning these games before I die!"
From South Bend Brian Kelly congratulated the Bearcats and said "He wouldn't be a bit surprised if Cincinnati beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl!" When reminded he could still be coaching a team on track to win a national championship, he stated, "My focus is the University of Notre Dame and helping them get to this great 16 team college football playoff and taking it from there."
Does that mean, however, we would lose our guaranteed BCS participation money for just being the greatest Catholic football school ever?" No, the GridIron gauntlet is a win/win for fans, schools and conferences and bowls. It just makes sense!
When asked how his current team would fare against his former team he said "it was all about coaching" and started to leave the podium with a bunch of puzzled reporters until he was confronted by a Cincinnati beat writer.
Finally, he was asked if he intended to personally attend any upcoming Cincinnati games if they continued to win in the GridIron Gauntlet 16 team playoffs, he stated, "If my Bearcat buddies want me to attend I'll suspend recruiting against the for one day to make it happen!"
Needless to say, the Bearcat followers are not to enthused about anything Brian Kelly has to say.
But the game was about Tony Pike and his ability to strike effectively early in the game and the brute force rushing of Isaiah Pead. Along with a key first quarter reception of 21 yards by Marty Gilyard, before you knew it the Bearcats were ahead 7-0.
It was at that point the white clad Penn State fans were once again having nightmare visions of 2008 and the wipe out at the Rose Bowl. But these playoffs are different than your standard "mean nothing" bowl games and the Lions were not about to lay down for this one.
Daryll Clark who said later the team was determined to make Paterno proud, completed two bullets to Derek Moore and a swing pass to Stephfon Green. Before you knew it they were in the middle of a serious drive and the Nittany Lions were on the move!
It was a pass for 15 and another pass for 10 yards to Derek Move (fast!), and then the punishing runs of Evan Royster and the game was tightening fast. Soon the score was tied at 7-7 and Paterno had a new hop in his old step.
But coach Brian Kelly had a great game plan for the Bearcats (Oops, we forgot he bailed for the brighter lights of South Bend). OK, the coaching staff still had it nailed as Cincinnati took the ball behind both Tony Pike and Zach Collaros right down the field to the Penn State 6-yard line where Collaros on a roll out fumbled the ball and stalled a very promising Cincinnati drive!
The game was as intense as any Penn State fan could remember as the teams traded blows throughout the remaining minutes in the first half.
It was so crazy Paterno was seen hiding behind a small tent taking in Oxygen as Penn State kicked a 56 yard field goal as time ran out in the first half with Penn State clinging to a 10-7 half time lead. The Oxygen seemed to work as Paterno hustled right by the ABC TV reporter and completely missed the half time interview (when has that ever happened before?).
The second half kickoff went to the Bearcats and they immediately set out to prove that the Big 10 was really the Big 1 and little 10 which equals eleven. There is little wonder why this conference has had such a difficult time competing in big games the last few years. They can't even get the number of schools in the conference right!
Anyway, Cincinnati behind Zach Collaros rumbled (can you hear Keith Jackson now!) down the field and behind a Jacob Ramsey 10 yard punishing run for a Bearcat touchdown, they found themselves ahead 14-10. The dream of forgetting Brian Kelly was becoming more real every play for the team if not in this article!.
The Nitanny Lions took the ensuing kickoff and ground out a 16 play 92 yard drive capped off by a Daryll Clark to seldom used Brandon Beachum that left Penn State on the three yard line with a first and goal.
Well, it was first and goal until Daryll Clark tried a very strange half back option (What was old Joe thinking on that one? He blamed his hearing aid on that one!) and the Lions found themselves on the 15 with a 12 yard loss.
The drive stalled at that point and Penn State settled for a 32 yard field goal and the score was narrowed to 14-13 headed into the fourth quarter. It was at that point that a Penn State fan was heard saying, "The only thing we were headed to last year in the fourth quarter were the tailgate parties outside the stadium. This year we are having much more fun!"
The Bearcats got the ball after the kickoff and immediately fumbled at their own 25 yard line and the Cincinnati lead was in serious peril. It was after a 23 yard touchdown strike from Daryll Clark to Graham Zug that Joe Pa was seen visiting that pesky tent again for as he put it, "A little spark for the old ticker!"
It must have worked because he was seen mobbing his quarterback and even smiling! Penn State was now ahead 20-14 and there were thought of a Fiesta Bowl match with TCU who had just won their own game minutes earlier on ESPN.
But it was not to be. As the wacky and tight fourth quarter wound down, the Bearcats (what is a Bearcat?) found themselves in position to win with 45 seconds left in the game.
South Bend reporters claim that Brian Kelly called in the final play of the game, but Cincinnati officials claimed that he had his cell phone confiscated, so who really knows! Regardless Tony Pike on a sneak behind Cinci's offensive line found the Bearcats on their way to the Fiesta Bowl with a hard fought and thrilling 21-20 win.
Brian Kelly was asked how he felt now that his former team had gone further than his current team had in oh, about 22 years! His response was, "Pretty happy for them and pretty lousy for me! Can I go back there and coach. I've checked out the talent level here at Notre Dame and we have no quarterback or wide receiver. What was I thinking?"
As we leave this story it was clear that old Brian was not really thinking! He left a potential dynasty for a "wanna be," so good luck and good bye! Oh yes, this writer has no axe to bear as a bitter Cincinnati fan. He is just an old USC guy who enjoys sticking to the Golden Domers every chance he gets!
The Bearcats were thrilled to be moving on in the GridIron Gauntlet 16 team college football playoff and had planned a bus ride through South Bend on their way to Chicago O'Hare Airport because the Cincinnati Municipal Airport was closed due to heavy snow.
On the way through South Bend their bus took a detour to the Notre Dame coach hall of fame where one coach has a long way to go before he ever see's the light of day in that place! Yep," Hail to Old Cincinnati" was the cry on that bus as they continued on their trip to the Fiesta Bowl and a possible national championship.