Fresno State Takes On No. 14 Cincinnati

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CINCINNATI (AP) - Killing time in their hotel rooms before their game at Oregon State last weekend, the 14th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats got a chance to watch television and do a little scouting on their next opponent.

Once they started watching, they couldn't turn away.

Fresno State's big-play offense gobbled up big chunks of yards on running plays and long passes, leaving No. 8 Boise State doing everything it could to keep up. A game of pinball offense ended with Boise State winning 51-34.

Cincinnati (3-0) came away with mixed feelings. The offensive players liked the frenetic pace. The defense? Not so much.

"Me and my roommate, (linebacker) Andre Revels, got upset watching the defense," linebacker J.K. Schaffer said. "I mean, we picture ourselves playing against them and what we'll have to do against them."

They know what they need to do: Avoid a shootout.

The Bulldogs (1-2) have one of the nation's top running games and a quarterback who likes to throw deep, stretching defenses until they're bent totally out of shape. They went to Wisconsin and took the game to double overtime before losing 34-31. They gave Boise State all it could handle.

Now, they're headed to Cincinnati.

"We will be challenged against Fresno State defensively, more so than I can remember," Bearcats coach Brian Kelly said.

So far, they've been awfully good.

Cincinnati was impressive in its toughest challenge yet last Saturday. No nonconference team had beaten Oregon State on its home field in 13 years. A 28-18 victory ended that streak at 26 games and showed that Cincinnati's defense - its biggest question - was growing up fast.

A unit with 10 new starters this season pulled the Bearcats through on an afternoon when the offense was merely above average.

"I'm not too surprised," Schaffer said. "We knew we were going to have a very tough defense coming in. We've worked really hard. We go all-out every day, trying to get better. We're not real surprised."

All along, Cincinnati has known it can outscore anyone when its offense is playing in top form. Senior quarterback Tony Pike leads a no-huddle, spread offense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in four categories, including fourth in scoring at 48.3 points per game. Receiver and kick returner Mardy Gilyard has scored six touchdowns.

Schaffer and his defensive teammates weren't the only ones doing a little scouting and wincing this week.

"Cincinnati throws a different wrinkle at us than the last two games," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. "We had a power game with Wisconsin, a very run-pass balanced team with Boise State. This team this week will be a no-huddle, spread team, a lot oftimes with five wide receivers in the game. It'll be a high-paced offense. They've got a wide receiver who may be as good as anybody I've seen on film for years in Gilyard."

The Bulldogs' best chance is to turn it into another shootout.

They've got the running game for it. Fresno State ranks fourth nationally in rushing, with junior Ryan Mathews leading the country with 149 yards per game. He has topped 100 yards in all three games this season, using his ability to dart through holes and run away from defenders. During the game against Boise State, Mathews scored on runs of 69, 60 and 68 yards.

"If you don't fit (the defense) the right way, if you don't wrap him up, Mathews is going to go for 60, 70 yards," Kelly said. "This will be the ultimate challenge for our defense up to this point in the season. If you don't fit the play properly and you don't tackle, they're going to run to daylight."

Kelly spent some time tinkering with his high-tech offense this week. The Bearcats had more dropped passes, penalties and mental mistakes at Oregon State than they had in the first two games combined. In the second half, they put together a couple of solid drives to clinch it and keep their streak intact: 24-0 under Kelly when leading after three quarters.

"I think we missed a lot of opportunities," running back Isaiah Pead said. "But when the time came and push came to shove, we got the job done. We didn't get uptight, we didn't yell at each other and point fingers. All of us came together."