If you're a Cincinnati fan, this was finally a game you really enjoyed watching. After three straight weeks of disappointing play (and a disappointing win against the Miami (OH) RedHawks), the Bearcats finally put together a game to be proud of, at the expense of the previously undefeated Miami (FL) Hurricanes.
The game provided a mix of solid offense, strong special teams play and a "bend don't break" defense that played with intensity the whole night. The Hurricanes weren't perfect themselves, but Cincinnati played well and earned an impressive home win, in front of a rowdy Nippert crowd.
Here are my takeaways from the game.
1. Home-field Advantage
Well done Cincinnati faithful! Nippert was rocking last night and the "black-out" certainly looked like a success. The stadium was loud and disruptive for a Hurricanes offense that made it's fair share of mistakes, in part, because of the home-field advantage. Certainly a lot of factors play into red zone success, but let's give the Nippert crowd some credit for the Hurricanes going 4-for-5 in the red zone visits with two field goals. Same could be said for two other field goal attempts that the Hurricanes missed.
Not many people were confident about Cincinnati's chances in this one, in large part, because of the defensive struggles. Cincinnati ranked in the bottom half of the nation in total defense entering the game and I'm not sure if the unit even attended last week's Memphis game.
That said, they showed a lot of improvement last night against a Miami team that fields a number of playmakers. Now, the stats aren't great. The Hurricanes still managed 427 total yards of offense with 281 yards through the air and 146 on the ground. Miami's Joseph Yearby only needed 17 carries to rush for 113 yards and added a touchdown from the running back spot and there were times where the Bearcats couldn't get off the field, giving up 21 first downs to the Canes.
Cincinnati made plays when they needed to and bounced back after Miami went on a 17-3 run between the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter. They held Miami to 4-of-15 on third down and forced them to settle for field goals on 2-of-5 red zone appearances. I was most impressed with the way the Bearcats defense was playing as the game drew on. Tackling has been dicey in recent weeks, but through the third and fourth quarters, the Cincinnati defense settled in and was wrapping up and driving through ball carriers, being the aggressors. The secondary clamped down and the defensive line was generating some pressure, even it if only resulted in two quarterback hurries and a lone sack from Sione Tongamoa. Miami had some of their own miscues and the Cincinnati defense certainly wasn't perfect, but they looked energized the entire game and did what they needed to do against an offense loaded with playmakers.
3. Special Teams
Special teams was another problem spot at the beginning of the season, but has since become a strength. Kicker Andrew Gantz was a perfect 2-for-2 on field goals with a career-long 51 yarder that stopped the bleeding when the Hurricanes went on their run in the first half. If there was ever a field goal that could change momentum when things began to look bleak, it was that one.
Sam Geraci was great punting the ball for the Bearcats with a long of 62 yards. He averaged 46 yards per punt. While Geraci and Gantz are becoming consistent performers, Shaq Washington's 69-yard punt return in the first quarter was something we haven't seen much of yet this season. It was a great return that set up the Bearcats deep in the red zone with Hayden Moore hitting Mekale McKay on the next play.
Between Gantz, Geraci and Washington's return, the special teams unit played a solid game and had a significant impact on the game's outcome. You have to like how this unit performed.
4. Hayden Moore Didn't Set Any Records
The Cincinnati offense wasn't quite as explosive as they were against Memphis a week ago, but it still played it's part in the big win. The Bearcats started fast, like I thought they would have to, and punched the Hurricanes in the mouth from the onset. Moore played quickly, making smart decisions and getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Despite the 14-3 lead, Miami stormed back and actually took the lead, capitalizing on a Moore interception. Moore's ability to bounce back and lead the Bearcats into half with two scoring drives and a 27-20 lead showed more of the poise and composure that is so impressive about the young quarterback.
In the second half, yardage was tough going on both offenses, but when Cincinnati needed to put the game out of reach in the fourth, they stepped up again. Following an interesting decision by Miami to run the ball on 3rd and 6 from the CIN 10, Miami had to settle for a field goal, pushing the score to 27-23. Cincinnati responded with a 5-play, 81-yard drive, highlighted by a beautiful 52-yard catch by McKay where he tipped the ball to himself, setting up the final touchdown of the game from Moore to Tyler Cogswell.
Overall, the Bearcats did exactly what they needed to do offensively. Tion Green and Hosey Williams were solid in the run game with 90 and 80 yards, respectively. They averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Moore threw for 279 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 22-of-33 passing. Washington and McKay showed up in a big way with Washington contributing his big punt return and then catching eight passes for 106 yards. McKay had four catches for 91 yards and a touchdown where he simply outmatched the defender. The offensive continues to play well and controlled a talented Miami front.
I don't think Cincinnati has a quarterback controversy when Gunner Kiel is finally cleared, as I still believe Kiel (as does Tommy Tuberville) gives Cincinnati their best chance offensively, but I have come away very impressed with Moore. He has helped the Bearcats move the ball when the pressure is on, in a way that we haven't really seen from a Kiel-led offense this season. To reiterate, I still believe it's Kiel's job when he is healthy, but the entire offense deserves credit for getting things clicking over the last two weeks and Moore certainly has something to do with that.
5. Get it... "takeaways"?
In the game preview, I wrote about the turnover-margin playing a huge role in the game. Well, technically, Cincinnati lost that battle once again, with Moore's interception being the lone turnover of the game. Maybe it's a product of how bad the Bearcats have been at protecting the ball, but I'm going to celebrate that it was only one. Cincinnati needs to protect the ball better, obviously, but after a minus-10 differential through the first four weeks, coming out of a big game against a talented opponent with only one turnover is a "win" in my book. Plus, the rest of the team played well enough to compensate.
All in all, it was a big win for Cincinnati. The Bearcats will next play BYU on the road on Oct. 16.
1st Downs: Cincinnati - 22, Miami (FL) - 22
3rd Down Efficiency: Cincinnati - 2/9, Miami (FL) - 4/15
Total Yards: Cincinnati - 446, Miami (FL) - 427
Passing Yards: Cincinnati - 279, Miami (FL) - 281
Rushing Yards: Cincinnati - 167, Miami (FL) - 146
Penalties: Cincinnati - (7-75), Miami (FL) - (6-50)
Turnovers: Cincinnati - 1, Miami (FL) - 0
Possession: Cincinnati - 25:22, Miami (FL) - 34:38