Five Things Cincinnati Must Do to Beat Fresno St. in the Season Opener

Alex Callos@@alexcallosCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2010

Five Things Cincinnati Must Do to Beat Fresno St. in the Season Opener

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    CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 13:  Isaiah Pead #23 of the Cincinnati Bearcats carries the ball against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the fourth quarter of the game at Nippert Stadium on November 13, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bearcats begin their reign as defending Big East champs tomorrow night in California when they take on the Fresno St. Bulldogs. 

    Fresno St. gave Cincinnati fits a season ago before falling 28-20 to the Bearcats at Nippert Stadium. This time Cincinnati has to travel to Fresno to take on a Bulldogs team who lost one of the best players in the country last season to the NFL Draft.

    Life without Ryan Mathews begins for head coach Pat Hill, but his Bulldogs bring back a solid squad.

    In the first game under new head coach Butch Jones, Cincinnati will have its hands full on the road as Fresno St. enters a 2 1/2 point favorite. 

    Here are five things that Cincinnati will need to do to be successful in Fresno. 

5. Win the Turnover Battle

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    TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 15:  Safety Drew Frey #26 of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrates an interception against the University of South Florida Bulls October 15, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The Bearcats have made a living the past couple of seasons on taking care of the ball and that is especially important on the road. 

    Cincinnati only turned the ball over 10 times last season, first in the nation and only two of those were fumbles. That will certainly need to continue in this one. 

    With a more balanced approach and the intelligence quarterback Zach Collaros possesses, the Bearcats have a chance to duplicate the numbers from last season.

    On defense, the Bearcats will rely on a young group with no senior in the starting lineup, but a lot of experience coming back from a team that forced 19 turnovers a season ago. Good for 80th in the country. 

    They will need to improve on that number in 2010 and win the turnover battle in this one. 

4. Run the Football

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    PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 05:  Isaiah Pead #23 of the Cincinnati Bearcats scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the University of Pittsburgh Panthers on December 5, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty I
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    All offseason the Bearcats and new head coach Butch Jones have talked about how important running the football is. Now it is time to do so. 

    Fresno St. ran the ball down Cincinnati's throat last season enabling them to stay in the game and tomorrow night look for Cincinnati to try and do some of the same.

    While the Bearcats will never run the ball 40 times a game, junior running back Isaiah Pead has the talent to be an 1,100 yard rusher even in this pass first offense. 

    Cincinnati will need to gain at least 150 rushing yards to balance out their attack and keep Fresno St. guessing. 

3. Overcome the Crowd

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    The Bearcats will be playing about as far away from home as possible and in quite a hostile environment. 

    Fresno St. is tough at Bulldog Stadium and for the season opener on national television, things may be even more difficult for Cincinnati.

    Collaros will have to show his poise early and the Bearcats will need to quiet the crowd from the start with points on their first drive. 

    With this being the first game of the year, Cincinnati has not had experience in an environment like this in a while and they must show calm under pressure. 

2. Dominate Special Teams

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    The Bearcats have had their fair share of ups and downs on special teams in the past couple of years, especially in the kicking game. 

    Jake Rogers is now entering his senior season and fourth year as the Bearcats starter. He has the leg, but has been inconsistent every season. Cincinnati will need him to step up not only on field goals, but punts as well.

    The Bearcats lost their star on special teams in return man Mardy Gilyard. Replacing him is also a big question mark that needs to be answered. 

    USC transfer Vidal Hazelton and junior receiver D.J. Woods will step into that role and should excel. Sophomore running back Darrin Williams took one kickoff to the house last season and will be back again in 2010. 

1. Control the Time of Possession

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    CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 24:  Zach Collaros #12 of the Cincinnati Bearcats throws the ball during the Big East Conference game against the Louisville Cardinals at Nippert Stadium on October 24, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    If there was one area Cincinnati struggled in consistently last season, it was time of possession. Simply put, they scored too quick.

    This season Butch Jones vows to slow down the tempo a little and run the football. 

    One of the main reasons the defense gave up so many points last season is because they were on the field so much. 

    The Bearcats finished dead last in the country in time of possession last season at 25:46 per game, yet they still managed to finish fourth in the nation in total points. 

    They have to keep the defense off the field. Last season against Fresno St. Cincinnati had the ball only 16 minutes compared to 44 for the Bulldogs. 

    If that happens again, Cincinnati will begin the season with a loss.