When it came time to play the 2011 AutoZone Liberty Bowl as part of the BOWL BLITZ INVITATIONAL here at STAT BOX STORIES, I was forced to make a tough decision about which of the two schools I would be playing as. The Vanderbilt Commodores are the slightly lower-rated team in NCAA Football 12, but the University of Cincinnati—and their Bearcats football team—is the college my wife is an alumnus from. As so many of these situations go, I opted to do the thing that would make my wife happier—playing as Cincinnati—even though I knew going into the game that I would be at a slight advantage over the CPU.
Although the Bearcats finished 9-3 to gain a share of the Big East Conference Championship, I had actually never played as them in this year’s installment of NCAA Football. Even though the Commodores finished their season at 6-6 and just barely became Bowl-Eligible by virtue of a win in their final regular season game, I would have to adjust to the school and hope for the best if I wanted to take home another victory in this project.
The game began well-enough for me and the Bearcats; after winning the coin toss and kicking the ball away, Cincinnati’s defense was able to intercept a deep throw on Vanderbilt’s opening drive and take possession at their own 15-yard-line. However, this poor field position proved problematic when the Bearcats’ offense stalled and they punts to the Commodores, with Vandy getting great position at midfield. A few plays later, a short pass to TE #6 of Vanderbilt turned into a 36-yard touchdown after a Bearcats defensive back whiffed on his tackle attempt.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cincinnati WR #3 returned the ball deep into Vanderbilt territory but the play was called back due to holding. Forced to started on their own 17-yard-line, the Bearcats threw an interception; in a taste of things to come, however, the defensive player returning the ball had it forced out of his hands and Cincinnati was able to recover. With a second chance on offense, the Bearcats put together a solid drive—including a 4th-and-Inches conversion at the Vanderbilt 9-yard-line—which ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by HB #23 to tie the game early on.
On Vanderbilt’s next possession, their quarterback threw an interception and the Bearcats took over deep in Commodores territory. A quick drive resulted in another touchdown run for HB #23, this time from two yards out. Just over a minute later, an attempted Vanderbilt option pitch was snagged by CB #5 of Cincinnati and returned 40 yards for a defensive touchdown and a 21-7 lead for the designated “away team.” Vanderbilt’s next possession was no more successful, ending with a three-and-out and a punt. With the ball back in possession, Cincinnati converted a 4th-and-1 try at midfield and then—with 1:28 left in the first half—completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to take a 28-7 lead off of 28 unanswered points.
With just over a minute remaining in the half, Vanderbilt took advantage of a long HB screen pass that got them down to the Cincinnati 6-yard-line, scoring on a 3-yard touchdown pass with 38 seconds left in the half to stop the bleeding and cut the deficit to 14 points. Cincinnati brought the kickoff back to the 50-yard-line, but a deep throw attempt for the end zone was intercepted and Vanderbilt kneeled on the ball to end the first half.
To begin the 3rd Quarter, Cincinnati returned the kickoff to the Vanderbilt 40-yard-line. With great field position, it took just over three minutes for the Bearcats to find the end zone again—again with HB #23—on a 1-yard touchdown run. Vanderbilt’s offense was forced to punt the ball on their first possession of the second half, but they managed to pin the Bearcats at their own 3-yard-line, which set up another interception for the Commodores defense. Not long after, Vanderbilt was able to score on a draw play from 20 yards out to cut the lead to 35-21 in favor of Cincinnati.
With the ball back in Cincinnati’s possession heading into the Fourth Quarter, however, the Bearcats showed no signs of slowing down. A lengthy, clock-chewing drive ended with HB #23’s fourth touchdown run of the game, this time from 10 yards out to make the score 42-21. On Vanderbilt’s next offensive drive, they elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 and were tackled in the backfield to turn the ball over on downs. Though penalties doomed Cincinnati’s next possession and they had to punt, Vanderbilt’s next possession ended with another turnover on downs when a 4th-and-2 attempt at midfield saw the ball caught out of bounds. With just under 1:30 left in the game, Vanderbilt’s defense was overwhelmed on a 39-yard touchdown rush by Cincinnati’s HB #10 to make the score 49-21. The Commodores couldn’t put anything together on their final possession, and the clock ran out with Cincinnati earning a 28-point victory.
Despite the lopsided final score, the teams were fairly even on offense; each side got 16 First Downs, and only 5 yards separated them on offense. Cincinnati outgained Vanderbilt on the ground 285-107, while the Commodores far outclassed the Bearcats through the air 245-62. Each team went 100% in their Red Zone attempts—with all Red Zone scores coming by way of touchdowns—and Cincinnati held the slight edge in turnovers, turning it over 3 times compared to Vandy’s 4.
Though Cincinnati’s quarterback had a largely forgettable day, Player of the Game HB #23 scored four times on the ground and racked up 203 yards rushing for the game. His “spell” backup, HB #10, also had a solid game with 82 yards on 9 carries and a single scoring run. Amazingly enough, neither side attempted a field goal in the game, leaving the placekickers with little to do but convert chip-shot extra point conversions after each of the game’s 10 combined touchdowns.
After my other game from today—the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl between Illinois and UCLA—I had been wondering if I could put together another solid game through the air. As the stats from this game would suggest, however, this was not the case. That said, putting together a strong effort in the rushing game is my usual modus operandi for victory, and this playthrough of the 2011 AutoZone Liberty Bowl for STAT BOX STORIES proved no different.