Big East Teams With Strong Start
JOHN KEKIS,AP Sports Writer
One week into the new season, the Big East is running and gunning.
The conference stands at 5-2 and is averaging 32 points a game, the Governor’s Cup is safely ensconced at Louisville, Temple has the Mayor’s Cup in Philadelphia, and Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni’s Huskies haven’t been scored upon. And those two losses were suffered by teams — Syracuse and Pittsburgh — that are leaving after this year.
Not bad for a conference given up for dead more than once in the tumultuous recent past.
Sure, this is nonconference play, but the numbers weren’t too shabby by any measure: the teams were 138 of 213 passing (64.8 percent) with five interceptions and averaged 399 yards offensively. Temple’s conservative aerial attack (5 of 11 for 61 yards) was complemented by a rushing attack that amassed 301 yards and didn’t drag down the overall average too much with Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib going 45 of 66 for 482 passing yards and accounting for 512 yards offensively — all school records — in a 42-41 home loss to Big Ten foe Northwestern.
Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux had a front-row seat for all the action — the Bearcats began the season with a bye. But he isn’t surprised at what he saw.
“You have guys like (South Florida’s) B.J. Daniels, (Louisville’s) Teddy Bridgewater, Nassib at Syracuse threw for 400 yards, the guys at UConn, Temple. Those quarterbacks do a great job,” Legaux said. “And here in Cincinnati, I think it’s a more open offense. I don’t want to say it’s five wideouts every down in the Big East, but teams like to spread the ball around, get the ball to playmakers and let them make plays in space. It’s a variety of open offenses. I see it a lot more throughout the Big East.”
Charlie Strong stands alone among his Big East coaching brethren. His Louisville Cardinals are the only ranked team in the conference, up two spots to No. 23 this week after dismantling in-state rival Kentucky 32-14.
The Cardinals scored on five of their first seven possessions, juniors Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry rushed for 105 and 108 yards, respectively, and Bridgewater completed 19 of 21 passes, setting a school percentage record while throwing for 232 yards.
What surprised Strong most was scoring on drives of 99, 85 and 93 yards without blinking as the Cardinals averaged an eye-opening 9.5 yards per pass attempt.
“It seems like at this time of year, it’s early in the season, the offenses are ahead of the defenses, and as we continue the defenses will get better,” Strong said. “We were just so balanced. When you’re able to throw the football as well as Teddy threw the ball, it opens up the running game for you.”
Temple celebrated its return to the conference with a 41-10 victory over Villanova. Matt Brown ran for 141 yards in the Owls’ first game since returning to a conference that kicked them out eight years ago for failing to meet minimum requirements for membership, most notably fielding a competitive team.
“There’s good players in this conference,” Temple coach Steve Addazio said. “Watching some of these teams, there’s some dynamic athletes. I think it’s great for the conference. We have to go out there and we have to play well.”
Connecticut scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in beating Massachusetts 37-0 last Thursday. That spoiled the Minutemen’s debut as a bowl subdivision program, and the Huskies gave them a hint of what to expect in the future. The Connecticut defense held UMass to just 59 yards of offense and three first downs. UMass did not have an offensive snap in UConn territory and averaged just over 1 yard per play.
“It’s no secret we feel we have a very competitive conference that can compete with any conference in the country,” Pasqualoni said. “I think there’s teams that really have some talent that not everybody’s aware of. That’ll come out as we play the season.”
South Florida has been one of those teams, and the Bulls started the season with a 34-13 home victory over Chattanooga, an FCS team from the Southern Conference. The elusive Daniels threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns and also tacked on a 20-yard TD run.
Down in New Orleans, visiting Rutgers beat Tulane 24-12 as Jawan Jamison ran for a 46-yard touchdown, Brandon Jones returned an interception for another score, and the Rutgers defense held the Green Wave to 8 yards rushing in handing them their 11th straight loss.
It was the head-coaching debut for Rutgers’ Kyle Flood, who replaced Greg Schiano after he left for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January. But Flood won’t read much into the success of the first week.
“I don’t know what that says about the conference. It’s only one week,” Flood said. “I think with anything you try to make a decision on a body of work. I’ve always felt that it’s hard to really judge what the statistics mean until you get into league play. I’ve always felt that league statistics were a much more valuable commodity than the total statistics just because everybody’s playing different opponents.
“Certainly, even at this point of the year, you’re not really sure of the strength of the out-of-conference schedule. You can’t really judge that until the end of the year.”
Pitt provided the lone lowlight, losing 31-17 at home to Youngstown State in head coach Paul Chryst’s debut for the Panthers. But Tino Sunseri still averaged a solid 8 yards per pass attempt, finishing 19 of 30 for 239 of Pitt’s 369 yards on offense.
“I think every football team is building their own identity, but I think what it showed is we have a lot of explosive players in the conference,” Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. “You look across the board … anyone can win the conference. Anyone and everyone can win this thing.”
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.