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Game Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Miami (FL) Hurricanes; Hayden Moore Gets First Start

Cincinnati takes the field for the second straight Thursday night on ESPN. This time, they host the Miami (FL) Hurricanes in Nippert Stadium.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Game

Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015

Cincinnati, OH

7:30 PM ET


Meet the Opponent

Cincinnati enters Week 5 at 2-2 and, once again, faces off with an undefeated team, this time a 3-0 Miami (FL) team, coming off a bye week in Week 4. The Hurricanes last took the field at home against Nebraska, winning 36-33 in overtime, after leading 33-10 in the fourth quarter, before the Cornhuskers stormed back to make a game of it. The game was decided on a 28-yard field goal following a Corn Elder interception that put the Hurricanes in the driver's seat during the overtime period.

Miami is led offensively by sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya. Kaaya has completed 61.4% of his passes this season for 839 yards. He has five touchdowns and one interception as well, with his most productive game coming two weeks ago against the Cornhuskers. He threw for 379 yards in that one on 42 passes. Joseph Yearby leads the Hurricanes on the ground, running for 311 yards thus far on 41 carries. That's an impressive 7.6 average yards per carry. He also had three touchdowns on the ground with freshman Mark Walton adding 150 yards and four touchdowns through three games. Rashawn Scott is the leading receiver for the Hurricanes with 273 yards and a touchdown on 18 receptions. Herb Waters has 194 yards receiving on the year and Yearby has 110 yards receiving as well.

Defensively, Miami (FL) will be without safeties Deon Bush and Jamal Carter for the first half after both were called for targeting in the second half of the Nebraska game. Highly-touted true freshman Jaquan Johnson and redshirt junior Quincy Casimir will be filling in at the safety spots. Regardless, the Miami defense is talented and is very good at impacting the game. The Hurricanes rank second nationally, averaging 2.33 interceptions per game (7 total) and second in turnover margin at plus-8. The team has nine sacks on the year and senior linebacker Raphael Kirby leads the team with 23 total tackles.

Miami (FL) Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense

Giving up 53 points last week doesn't exactly give me a great deal of confidence in calling this a fair fight for the Cincinnati defense. Memphis moved the ball at will, outside of a few rare occurrences where the Bearcats looked like a serviceable unit. Not all hope is necessarily lost for the Cincinnati defense though. Last week, we saw a lot of new faces in new places. Young players were thrown into the limelight against a quarterback, in Paxton Lynch, that will be playing, and likely playing well, on Sundays. There were a number of mental lapses last week, which you would hope to see only improve as the young players get a little more comfortable.

As you would imagine, Miami (FL) isn't going to coddle them as the Cincinnati defense still searches for their identity. The Hurricanes offer a dynamic balanced attack. Kaaya, while talented, isn't quite Lynch, but the Miami run game is more formidable than what Memphis utilized anyway. The Hurricanes have the talent, across the offense, to pick their spots. The run game will likely be an early focus, and until Cincinnati proves they can control the line of scrimmage against a team that wants to run the ball, I see that being a tall task.

When the Hurricanes go to the air, the Miami talent should take over. Tommy Tuberville has said that the ongoing goal for the Bearcats' program is to improve the overall team athleticism to compete better against top competition. Miami has that top-flight athleticism, particularly at the play-making positions. The Bearcats may have some athletes that can matchup at times, but roster-wide, the Hurricanes are a whole different beast compared to a Memphis team that torched Cincinnati last week. There is no reason why Miami (FL) shouldn't be able to put up some points, based on how the matchups lay out on paper.

For Cincinnati to have a chance in this phase of the game, they will need to play out of their minds and show something we have yet to see this season. They will have to play mistake-free, will have to control the line of scrimmage in the run game, be able to pressure Kaaya with their front four and will need to force turnovers. If this sounds like a laundry list of the things any team wants to do defensively, it's because it is. Again, we need to see something we have yet to see this season: a complete defensive unit.

Miami (FL) Defense vs. Cincinnati Offense

Hayden Moore is getting his first start in place of the injured Gunner Kiel, after Moore threw for 557 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions against Memphis in essentially three quarters of play. Moore has the physical tools and clearly has at least a tenuous grasp of the Cincinnati offense, but don't expect an offensive outpouring again from Moore. I actually think Moore could play well, but obviously, the record-breaking debut (essentially) wasn't something that we should expect to see again soon. A full week of him practicing as the starter should help though.

The biggest thing in this phase of the game, especially with a young, inexperience signal-caller is the turnover-margin. Cincinnati is minus-10. Think about that. Four games and Cincinnati's turnover-margin is minus-10. That's 127th (aka dead last) in the NCAA. If Moore and company can protect the ball and convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns, the Bearcats are averaging an absurd 622.5 yards per game offensively, which is third in the country, only behind Baylor and TCU. The offensive line is solid, although they will have a tough matchup this week, and the skill-position players are certainly capable of holding their own against the Hurricanes. As is always the case with Cincinnati's passing attack, there are so many options for Moore to choose from, it's just a matter of finding them.

That said, I think the deciding factor in this game (outside of turnover-margin) will be the Cincinnati run game. Mike Boone may be out or limited, meaning Hosey Williams and Tion Green will have to help the Bearcats establish some semblance of a run game. Moore will not be able to sit back and pick apart the defense as he did against Memphis and will need a more balanced attack offensively. The Hurricanes gave up 153 yards rushing to Nebraska in Week 3 with a 4.8 yards per carry average and rank 51st nationally, giving up 143 yards per game. The Cincinnati offensive line held up well in Week 2 against Temple's defensive front and it will be interesting to see how they fair this week in the run game, but also in the passing game where they will look to keep Moore comfortable in the pocket.

Special Teams

Cincinnati's Andrew Gantz continues to cash in on Cincinnati's red zone woes, going 17-for-17 on extra points and 10-for-12 on field goals with a miss from 53 yards and a blocked kick last week. Gantz was 4-for-5 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points last week. Punter Sam Geraci continues to play very well.

Miami (FL) has two very good specialists in kicker Michael Badgley and punter Justin Vogel. Badgley is 14-for-14 on extra points and 9-for-10 on field goals with a long of 48 yards. Vogel averaged 52 yards a punt in Week 3 with a long of 63.


Score: Cincinnati 34, Miami (FL) 45

I have a hard time believing that Moore, as impressive as he looked last week, will have enough in what should be a tough, physical game, to pull off the upset. Playing at Nippert Stadium is a very good thing. Knowing that the offense can hit big plays after last week's shootout is another very good thing for the Bearcats. Heck, wearing all black uniforms is a very good thing in my eyes. All things considered, Cincinnati has a nice opportunity here, but I have to think the 557 yards passing from Moore last week are the exception, not the rule. Cincinnati will need to control the pace of the game with their run game and keep the pressure off their defense. Even before Moore was thrown into the lineup, Cincinnati turned the ball over, couldn't generate a consistent pass rush defensively and looked lost in the secondary. I have trouble believing that all gets fixed for this game.

I believe Moore will try to get the Bearcats moving fast early-on offensively, when the home crowd is most involved. I look forward to seeing a heavy dose of the run game, trying to simplify the passing game for Moore with the play-action. I expect to see some yards and some points, but turnovers and red zone efficiency will be essential, as the Cincinnati defense will have it's hands full with another quarterback that can light up the scoreboard. Defensively, it will all come down to the line of scrimmage and what the defensive front can do for the Bearcats. If they can limit the run and/or rush the passer, they may be able to generate enough stops to keep the game close until the end.

For my prediction though, I have to take the Hurricanes.