1.) It's hard sometimes to know what's real and what isn't after some non-conference breezers, but has anything stood out to you as different/improved in year two of the Butch Jones era?
The main takeaway is that the Bearcats are a much more physical team along both lines of scrimmage in 2010. A big part of that is improved depth along both lines of scrimmage, but for the Defense in particular. Last year the rotation was basically 6 guys the for starters and a backup playing both tackle spots and one defensive end who would switch sides from time to time. The defensive line goes 8 or 9 guys deep this year. The front guys are strong, and they were last year as well. But the grind of playing 80 or 90 snaps a game clearly had an adverse effect at the end of the year when the entire front 7 was basically held together with a combination of duct tape, spit and copious quantities cortisone. Getting those starters to manageable reps closer to 60 of 65 has paid dividends this year.
2.) Y'all had some offensive line issues last season, or at least you did in the game against us last year. How's that area of the team looking this year?
So far so good. Just two sacks allowed through three games, two of which admittedly were against slightly pathetic opposition. But even Tennessee's defensive line struggled to really get to Zach Collaros. It isn't a great group in my estimation, but this year they have certainly progressed beyond being a glaring weakness into something resembling a relative strength. They do tip plays off so keep an eye on that. But this is a much better offensive line than the one that NC State saw last season.
3.) On the other side of the ball, are you encouraged by what you've seen from your defense to this point? What are the team's defensive strengths and which guys should we keep an eye on on Thursday?
This front seven is imminently capable of bossing it in the running game. They have allowed back to back 100 rushers for the first time since at least 2005. But the issue isn't that the front simply gets overpowered by the back or offensive line. Its bad run fits and taking poor angles, both of which are correctable issues. Derek Wolfe and John Hughes are two big physical 300 pounders, both of whom will spend next August in NFL training camps. The other guy to keep an eye on is J.K Schaffer who has posted back to back 100 tackle seasons and is off to a good start again this year with 20 tackles in basically two game
4.) I noticed Cincinnati has managed to flip its turnover margin from -15 in 2010 to +12 in 2011--is there a magic wand of some sort involved in this process and if so where do I get one?
I don't know if there is a magic wand for turnovers. they are fickle things that's for sure. Basically it was ground into the sub conscious of every bearcat to take care of the football offensively and to attack he football on defense. last week the bearcats had three defensive TD's which has to be a modern era record. I guess if there is magic wand for turnovers the key is to finish basically dead last with a horrendous turnover margin so you can beat the p[layers into submission with said wand for the 9 months leading up to the next season.
5.) Now that Cincinnati has seen NC State in person, what sorts of adjustments do you expect to see in the game this year? Is it as simple as "play better up front" or do you expect the plan of attack to change a little bit? What of handling a pocket QB like Mike Glennon versus a dual threat guy like Russell Wilson?
Honestly I have no idea. I never really know what Tim Banks the Co DC and play caller is thinking. Previously this year against Tennessee faced with a similar tall, lanky big armed QB the Bearcats sat in a poorly executed zone and Tyler Bray picked it apart for a career day. Logic indicates that this defense has shown no aptitude for executing that kind of gameplan. My best guess is that Banks will try to attack the offensive line with blitzes and rush the decision making of Gelennon. But that's just a guess, no one really knows.