As far as locations go, UC lucked-out this year. The Cats will face the San Diego State Aztecs on December 24, 2015, at 8 pm EST on ESPN in the Hawaii Bowl played in Honolulu at Aloha Stadium. This will be the second game between the two schools. The Bearcats beat the Aztecs 52-23 when the teams met in 2007 at Qualcomm Stadium.
SDSU stands at 10-3, having won the Mountain West Championship over Air Force and riding a nine-game win streak. They will get to play in Hawaii for the second time this year on Christmas Eve after already having bested the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (what a ridiculous name). While the Aztecs do not have any “big game” wins, they flipped the script after losing to Cal, Penn State, and South Alabama, averaging 35 points per game and only allowing 12 points per game since that time.
As a team, the Aztecs have 3,059 yards on the ground and 30 rushing TDs this year. Their rushing attack is led by Donnel Pumphrey, who has 18 TDs and averages 5.5 yards per carry. Quarterback Maxwell Smith has thrown for just 1,529 yards and 13 TDs, but has given the ball away just twice. SDSU’s goal is to control the ground with their multiple running backs and chew-up the game clock, limiting their opponents opportunities.
Cincinnati finished the regular season at 7-5, with close loses to Temple (8 points), Memphis (7 points), and AAC Champions Houston (3 points). Several games got away from UC, but they still have a very high power offense. The Cats have accumulated 6,713 total yards. That’s good for seventh in the country. UC averages 516 passing yards per game, which is fifth nationally.
On paper, this game presents a lot of issues for the Bearcats. SDSU is known for pounding the ball, while the UC defense struggles to stop the run, allowing 190.3 rushing yards per game (not a misprint).
UC struggles to cause negative plays in the backfield, with only 52 tackles for loss on the season, ranking 118th in the country. The Bearcats will rely on their aerial attack behind Gunner Kiel, who has thrown 11 picks. On the other hand, the SDSU defense ranks second in the country in causing turnovers with 31 forced. They are also fifth in the country in interceptions, accumulating 20 so far.
UC comes into this game with a 2-4 road record, and struggles in warm weather and difficult climates, including a blowout loss to USF this year, a loss to BYU, and a blowout loss to Miami (FL) last year.
Tuberville has a 7-5 bowl game record, including an 0-2 mark at Cincinnati. If the Bearcats come out with a W, it will be because Gunner Kiel controlled the game and UC had ZERO turnovers. The Cats defense must put SDSU in third and medium to third and long situations placing the game in the hands of their quarterback, and outside of their rushing attach comfort zone.
As far as matchups go, the Hawaii Bowl is a very tough one for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. Having 18 days to prepare, it will be interesting to see how the riverboat gambling Tommy Tuberville coaches this one.
By Andy Smith