By Al Myatt, Special to CNNSI.com
Injuries are part of the game that must be overcome. And no one is dealing
with the absence of key personnel better than Cincinnati, which lost
starting quarterback Adam Hoover in the second game of the season. True
freshman Gino Guidugli has stepped in to lead the Bearcats to a 3-0
start in league play.
"He's a real special kid, both as an individual and as a quarterback,"
said Cincinnati coach Rick Minter. "He's learned our offense very
quickly. He brings an air of confidence about him that I really haven't
seen very often."
Guidugli has completed 87 of 129 passes, an outstanding 67.4 percent.
He's totaled 983 yards passing with eight touchdowns and just two
interceptions going into a game Saturday night at winless Houston.
The Bearcats attracted Guidugli from nearby Fort Scott, Kentucky. In his
prep career Guidugli completed 434 of 699 passes for 7,397 yards and 90 touchdowns.
"He's the most highly-recruited kid that we've been able to land here at
the quarterback position," Minter said. "He's done the things that our
offense requires him to do. He's confident. I don't think a whole lot
really rattles this young man."
Guidugli certainly wasn't flustered in his first college action at Army
on Sept. 8 when Hoover sustained a torn ACL in his left knee late in the
first half. Guidugli came in and completed 31 of 41 passes for 311 yards
and three touchdowns. The Bearcats trailed three times in the fourth
quarter of that game but won 24-21 when Guidugli directed a 70-yard
drive after the Cadets had taken a 21-17 lead with 1:16 left. Guidugli's
12-yard scoring strike to Tye Keith with seven seconds to go accounted
for the winning points.
Cincinnati has extended its school-record Conference USA winning streak
to six games with victories over Tulane and UAB with Guidugli guiding
the offense. Wide receiver LaDaris Vann is a prime target with 38
catches for 410 yards and two scores. Fullback Ray Jackson and running
back DeMarco McCleskey have provided a ground attack that has taken some
of the pressure to produce off of Guidugli.
"We've got to continue to run the ball around him," Minter said. "We've
got to play better defense and play solid special teams."
Adam Wulfeck is helping the Bearcats in terms of field position with a
44.7-yard punting average, the best in C-USA. Jonathan Ruffin had 26
field goals last season, tops in the nation, so there's no question
about the capability of the placekicking.
Cincinnati was picked sixth in the preseason poll by the league coaches
but is currently atop the league standings. Memphis, picked seventh, is
2-1 in the league with a win over perennial league power Southern Miss.
Like the Bearcats, the Tigers had to make do last week without their
starting quarterback. With Travis Anglin sidelined with a shoulder
injury, freshman Danny Wimprine stepped in to complete 14 of 21 passes
for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 85 yards on 15 carries
as Memphis piled up its highest point total since 1992 in a 52-33 win at
Houston. The Cougars were also without their starter, Kelly Robertson,
but Nick Eddy filled in by connecting on 28 of 42 passes for 331 yards
and two scores.
TCU lost quarterback Casey Printers to a bruised rotator cuff in the
second quarter against Tulane and lost 48-22 to the Green Wave. Sean
Stilley came in and was intercepted on the Horned Frogs' first three
possessions in the second half.
When injuries strike, the quality of play from back-ups often determines success.
"Sometimes when adversity hits, it creates opportunities for other
kids," Minter said.
Memphis junior Dante Brown, started preseason
practice listed fifth on the Tigers' depth chart but ultimately beat out
returning starter Jeff "Sugar" Sanders and has had three 100-plus-yard
rushing games in the Tigers' 4-2 start.
Brown, a transfer from Middle Georgia College, sparked Memphis to
a 52-33 win at Houston last week as he ran 26 times for 149 yards with four
First-year Memphis head coach
Tommy West initially signed Brown out of high
school when he was coaching at Clemson. He recognized Brown on a
recruiting visit to Middle Georgia after Brown enrolled there and subsequently signed him for Memphis.
"I didn't need to see any tape of him at Middle Georgia," West said. "I
already knew he could run."
Now teams in C-USA are finding out what West knew.
Tulane RB Mewelde Moore
The sophomore is fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game with 145.7.
East Carolina on third down
The Pirates are last in C-USA in third down conversions (29.2 percent)
and in opponents' third down conversions (52.3 percent).
Tulane quarterback Patrick Ramsey
Threw for 355 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-22 win over TCU.
Southern Miss pass protection
The Golden Eagles had allowed a league-high 18 sacks in four games going
into a Tuesday nighter at Louisville.
East Carolina's Marvin Townes muffed two punt returns at Army, one of
which led to an Army possession and the first score of the game for the
Cadets. But Pirates coach Steve Logan didn't lose confidence in the
speedy freshman and kept him in the game on kickoff returns.
"I can't fault him," Logan said. "We want our punt returners to commit
to catching the football. It was an aggressive mistake because there was
a lane there."
Townes rewarded Logan's confidence by taking a kickoff back 93 yards for
a touchdown. Townes' 32.2-yard kickoff return average is third in the nation.
East Carolina running back Leonard Henry
Ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 13
carries at Army.
Cincinnati defensive end Antwan Peek
Blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown in the third quarter to add to the Bearcatsí
21-17 lead at UAB. It was the fifth blocked kick
Tulane safety Wesley Heath
Had 10 tackles against TCU, including one
Memphis visits East Carolina on Saturday for the Pirates'
"This Memphis team that we're getting ready to encounter is typical in
that they are very competitive on defense and have got a good kicking
game," said ECU coach Steve Logan. "They are atypical in that they have
discovered an offense. They've brought in a new offensive coordinator
[Randy Fichtner] who has put them in a spread offense. ... Over the last
three or four years, they've been in a constrictive-type of set, where
they run the ball and control the clock and those types of things.
"They've turned the corner and are very well-orchestrated on offense."
Memphis scored 176 points for the entire 2000 season. They've scored 165
points in six games this season.
The Tigers lead C-USA in turnover margin with a plus-9. They are
averaging 27.5 points per game and face an ECU defense that is last in
the league against the pass. The Pirates' secondary hopes to be
bolstered by the return of cornerback Kelly Hardy, who has been out with
a knee injury.
League-leading Cincinnati goes to Houston.
"They're a good solid eight-man front defensive squad," said Cincinnati
coach Rick Minter. "They get up there and crowd the box and deny the
running game and, of course, play good solid pass coverage."
The Cougars rank third in C-USA in pass defense, allowing 171.2 yards
Army visits TCU in the first-ever meeting between the two. It's also the
first league game the Horned Frogs have hosted. Tulane plays UAB on the
road for the first time. The Blazers won 23-20 in double overtime last season.
Tulane's Mewelde Moore became the 12th C-USA player to run for over
1,000 yards in the league's six seasons and did it the fastest, in seven
games. He has 1,020 rushing yards. Tulane is second nationally in
fumbles recovered with 11. ... Army's Chad Jenkins threw for 289 yards
against ECU, a career high. ... Cincinnati is off to its best league
start since opening 4-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference in 1964. ...
TCU punter Joey Biasatti had a 52.8-yard average on five punts at
Tulane. ... UAB heldd Cincinnati to 66 yards rushing, the fifth time in
six games the Blazers have held an opponent under 100 yards on the
ground. UAB is allowing 60.3 rushing yards per game, second to Southern
Miss (55.0) in the league. ... ECU is the rushing offense leader with a
218.2-yards per game average. ... C-USA's board of presidents tabled the
issue of expansion in meetings in Fort Worth, Texas, last weekend.
Marshall was rumored as a possible addition in football.