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Game Preview: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. BYU Cougars; Another Battle of Offenses

Cincinnati travels to Provo, Utah to take on the 4-2 BYU Cougars.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Game

Friday, Oct. 16, 2015

Provo, Utah

8:00 PM ET

ESPN

Meet the Opponent

BYU enters this week's game at 4-2 after two straight wins over AAC competition. The Cougars defeated East Carolina last week, 45-38, and UConn the week before in a 30-13 win. The two lone losses on BYU's schedule came against UCLA and Michigan. The loss to the Bruins was only a 24-23 loss, but the Michigan loss looked awful. The Wolverines, albeit in Ann Arbor, beat-up the Cougars in a 31-0 shutout. To be fair to BYU, the country has come around to the idea that maybe Michigan is a heck of a lot better than initially thought, so that loss, while bad in the box score, maybe isn't as bad as the final score suggests. The Cougars were magical in their first two weeks of the season, with two Tanner Mangum last-second touchdown throws the difference in wins over Nebraska and Boise State.

Speaking of Mangum, the Cougars quarterback situation this season has been fluid. Taysom Hill, a legitimate Heisman candidate talent, saw his season end to injury for the second season in a row back in Week 1. Hill's ability as a runner, and development as a passer, made BYU ridiculously dangerous offensively. Mangum, a 22-year-old freshman, took the reins in the Nebraska game, threw the game-winning hail mary pass and has since played very well. Mangum has completed 62.5% of his passes, averaging 7.08 yards per pass with a 131.8 QB rating and nine touchdowns to five interceptions. That said, Mangum is now considered probable himself due to a hamstring injury, leaving freshman Beau Hoge as the likely starter if Mangum can't go. I personally foresee Mangum getting the start anyway, but BYU could be on their third-string quarterback.

Elsewhere offensively, the Cougars are led by Adam Hine and Algernon Brown in the run game. Hine has 312 rushing yards on the season and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Brown is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, has 252 rushing yards and leads the team with three touchdowns on the ground. It's worth noting that Hine hasn't played since hurting his ankle in the Michigan game. Brown, on the other hand, racked up 134 of his 252 yards against East Carolina last week. All three of his touchdowns came in the same game. In the air, Devon Blackmon is the leading BYU receiver, but not by much. Blackmon has 342 yards receiving on the season with 27 receptions while the Cougars' second-leading receiver, Mitchell Juergens, has 26 receptions and 341 yards. Mitch Mathews leds the team in receptions with 30 on the year and leads the team with six receiving touchdowns.

Defensively, BYU is 79th in the country, giving up 400.7 yards per game. The Cougars have racked up 16 sacks thus far, led by Harvey Langi's four. BYU also has 10 interceptions on the year with Kai Nacua leading the team with four interceptions. As a team, they also have 21 pass breakups and 15 quarterback hurries. Micha Wadsworth, at defensive back, leads the team with 44 total tackles. The stats for the BYU defense are also a product of their competition, which has been among the toughest schedules in the country. They have the No. 4 ranked schedule according to USA Today's Jeff Sagarin's rankings. For perspective, Cincinnati is No. 82.

BYU Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense

BYU's offense has a lot of talent, but the depth chart has been bitten hard by the injury bug. The loss of Hill at the quarterback position didn't have the debilitating impact some thought it could have had. Mangum has been great in place of Hill, but now Mangum is only probable. If Mangum plays, there is enough size and skill on the outside to challenge a Cincinnati secondary that probably played their best football two weeks ago against Miami (FL). It's important to remember that the Miami offense had a number of penalties and mental errors that helped the Bearcats out of a couple jams. That's not to take away from the Oct. 1 showing, but the Cincinnati defense still needs to improve, or at least piece together a couple more solid performances.

Cincinnati's defensive line has improved as the season has gone along and with Brown coming off a big game a week ago for BYU, they will need to really buckle down on the run game. Against the Hurricanes, the run defense really didn't limit them too much. The Bearcats' front made plays when they needed to, but the Hurricanes still averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

I expect Mangum to play for BYU and I expect the Cougars to push the run early before setting up some deep throws for their tall, talented receivers. Cincinnati showed a lot of good things defensively against the Hurricanes two weeks ago, but there is no denying that the defense is the weak-link on the road in Provo, at least on paper. If Mangum doesn't play, look for the BYU gameplan to shift to a shorter passing game with more quarterback pass/run options for the more run-oriented Hoge. A dual-threat quarterback shouldn't surprise the Bearcats, having seen players like Paxton Lynch and P.J. Walker earlier this season.

BYU Defense vs. Cincinnati Offense

Much like the above section, the offense should have the advantage in this matchup. BYU's defense has talent across the board, but have been underperforming a bit this season. Just looking back on last week's game for BYU, the Cougars gave up nearly 400 (385) yards passing through the air and 133 yards on the ground to East Carolina. We shouldn't discredit the Pirates, but I consider the Bearcats a much more explosive offense.

The numbers speak to that too, with Cincinnati the fifth ranked offense nationally, averaging 587.2 yards per game, behind only Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU and Bowling Green. While the decision of Hayden Moore or Gunner Kiel is expected to be a game time call, I think either quarterback will continue to rack up yards and points in this offense, especially with Mike Boone, Chris Moore and Johnny Holton healthy again.

Look for the run game to be emphasized on the road early, with Cincinnati's three-head monster at running back, and for the passing attack to overwhelm BYU's defense through the air with the litany of weapons at their disposal. As always, the quarterback, whoever it is, must protect the ball.

Special Teams

Cincinnati's Andrew Gantz is 21-for-21 on extra points and 12-for-14 on field goals. Even then, those two misses were a 53-yarder and a blocked kick. He has been outstanding for the Bearcats this season with a long of 51. Punter Sam Geraci continues to play very well, averaging a healthy 46.5 yards per punt.

BYU's kicker is Trevor Samson who is 19-for-19 on extra points this season and 9-for-11 on field goals with the misses coming in the 30-49 yard range. He has a long of 45 yards. Punter Jonny Linehan has averaged 43.4 yards per punt this season with a long of 77.

Prediction

Score: Cincinnati 45, BYU 42

This is a challenging prediction in the sense that there are some key pieces that still need to work themselves into place. Mangum is still only probable for tonight's game, although I expect him to start, and the Bearcats haven't announced if they will be rolling with Kiel or Moore. All the same, I like Cincinnati in this one and I may be in the minority.

Offensively, Cincinnati will once again establish the run first, particularly with this game on the road, and then move the ball around to their talented playmakers on the outside. The yards and points should come, regardless of who's behind center. BYU's defense is pretty good with even a higher-ceiling, but Cincinnati has so many weapons to utilize.

For the Bearcats defensively, I liked what I saw two weeks ago against the Hurricanes. They weren't dominant and really didn't cut down the yardage either, but they played with some fire we hadn't seen all year. With the youth that has worked into the defensive unit, I think that momentum is essential. Young players have a way of exceeding expectations when momentum is on their side and having that momentum heading into last week's bye should result in a better defensive unit this week, even on the road. To be fair, my prediction still has the Cougars scoring 42 points, but I think Cincinnati's defense will have just enough.

Once again, the big factor here is turnovers. Cincinnati needs to win or draw the turnover differential and with their defense unable to force many turnovers this season, that puts more pressure on the offense. Play clean football offensively, make a couple key plays defensively and Cincinnati could walk away with another impressive win in a very, very tough road environment.