After a mere 90 minute delay due to weather, the Bearcats finally got their 2015 college football season and I have to admit, it could be a pretty good one.
First off, Cincinnati dominated this game, as many expected. It wasn't as smooth as it could have been, but the Bearcats were the better team and their advantage in talent was clear. Heck, they set a new school record for total yardage with 638 total yards (previous record: 590 against USF last year). Oh, and Cincinnati returned to Nippert Stadium, setting a new record crowd.
Officially a record crowd at #Nippert2015 tonight: 39,095— Cincinnati Bearcats (@GoBEARCATS) September 6, 2015
Right from the opening kickoff, Cincinnati seemed to be in control. Alabama A&M received the opening kickoff and looked dazed in the beautiful, newly renovated Nippert Stadium. First-time starter and junior college transfer De'Angelo Ballard started the game for the Bulldogs and looked frazzled (do people still use that word?) missing some early throws. Nonetheless, the Bearcats defense wasn't giving him much to work with. They were flying around the field, clogging the run game and putting pressure on Ballard when he dropped back.
Cincinnati's offense took their first drive to the endzone on a beautiful eight play drive that only took 2:47 off the clock. The drive was about as smooth as you could imagine to start the year offensively with Gunner Kiel going 5-of-5 and capping it off with an easy touchdown pass to Johnny Holton in the endzone.
Complete and utter blowout imminent, right?
*cue inner Lee Corso* Not so fast my friend!
Okay, so obviously Cincinnati found their way, but there was a rough patch. On Cincinnati's ensuing possession, after forcing another quick three-and-out, Kiel ran a read-option, kept the ball and then readied himself to throw the ball to the outside, but instead fumbled, giving the Bulldogs a short field. The Bearcats defense stepped up and got the ball back for the Cincinnati offense.
However, the Cincy offense sputtered again as they returned to the air, but struggled to get on the same page. Cincinnati was forced to punt for the first time in 2015 and it was blocked, giving the Bulldogs a short field yet again.
This time, the Bulldogs of Alabama A&M finally punched through and scored a touchdown, tying the score up, 7-7.
After Cincinnati got the ball back, the Bearcats could only manage 19 yards in six plays and had to punt again, undoubtedly unnerving some UC faithful. The Bulldogs were less impressive with their go-ahead opportunity, only managing six yards in their three-and-out.
Cincinnati's offense got the ball back and this time came back to the run game, pounding the ball at the Alabama A&M defensive front. The run-focus seemed to settle the offense as the offensive line had little trouble making running lanes for Hosey Williams, Mike Boone and Tion Green. With the run game establishing itself, things began to slow down in the passing game giving Cincinnati the offensive balance to score touchdowns with ease on their next four possessions, closing out the first half. The Bearcats entered the break leading 35-7 with the game mostly decided.
Backup quarterback Hayden Moore entered the game at around the three minute mark in the second quarter and led Cincinnati on a touchdown drive before halftime. Moore kept the offense humming in the second half, leading the offense to a drive that ended with kicker Andrew Gantz's first made field goal of the year.
From then on, Cincinnati remained run-focused with Alabama A&M unable to do much against the Cincinnati defense. Both teams seemed more than willing to run the clock down to the final whistle after Cincinnati took a 45-7 lead with Moore's perfect 28-yard throw to Alex Chisum for a touchdown in the third quarter.
- The defense showed me exactly what I wanted to see. I was hoping to see a fast, attacking defense that took control of the game early. The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and forced three sacks without having to blitz the house. There is a lot of inexperience on the defensive line, but don't think that means the talent is lacking. There are some solid players with a lot to offer along that defensive line. Sophomore Mark Wilson, junior Sione Tongamoa and freshman Norman Oglesby each earned sacks with Silverberry Mouhon racking up three tackles himself, displaying the strength and explosiveness you expect from him.
- The secondary wasn't really tested. Early on, there were a couple throws that Ballard missed, largely due to nerves. A more experienced and settled quarterback may have exposed the Bearcats more early on, but for the most part, the secondary seemed to be where they needed to be. Adrian Witty is a difference-maker to have in the secondary. He does so many things well as a corner and is a very saavy veteran. Andre Jones added an interception, stepping in front of a receiver for the pick.
- Tuberville took Kiel out of the game with around three minutes left in the first half, ending his night. He finished 18-of-22, 233 passing yards and two touchdowns, while hitting eight different receivers. Ignore those two early possessions with the fumble and blocked punt and you have a near perfect showing. He has so much natural ability as a thrower and his weapons are insane. This is what you want to see from Kiel and, better yet, he didn't take any real hits.
- While we are on quarterback, Moore looked very impressive. His stats aren't as eye-popping as Kiel's, going 8-of-14 for 107 yards and one touchdown, but some of the throws he made were absolutely perfect. He has great touch and solid arm strength. He's a very promising player based on his throws alone.
- The offensive line dominated like you would expect them to. The quality of competition just wasn't there with the Bulldogs, but it was still a great showing. They made life easy on the running backs and I'm not sure if the quarterbacks were touched.
- The running backs are one and the same. Sure, they bring different skill sets, but they have the same impact. Neither Williams, Green or Boone really distanced themselves as all three were very effective splitting carries. Green finished the night with 127 yards on 17 carries (7.5 avg.) and a touchdown. Williams used 18 carries to rack up 95 yards (5.3 avg.) and one touchdown. Boone averaged 6.6 yards per carry as he ran for 86 yards on 13 carries with two powerful touchdown runs. Williams got the start, but I said "wow" more often for Green and Boone. Green looked big, strong and quite nimble with a great burst. Boone was lowering his shoulder with tremendous success and Williams seemed like the most complete back. It's likely a moot point though. They will all play and split carries, as they should. The offense needed the run game to settle down and it's clear that regardless of the weapons on the outside, the Bearcats will need the run to get the passing game going.
- Speaking of the passing game... wow. You could make a very convincing argument that Cincinnati's receiving core is the best in the nation. Mekale McKay was relatively quiet, as was Chris Moore and it didn't matter. Shaq Washington reeled in seven receptions for 69 yards, playing a huge role in getting the offense going again. He stepped up when Cincinnati needed someone to step up. Holton isn't even listed as a starter on the depth chart and the Bulldogs couldn't cover him, bringing in three receptions for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
1st Downs: Alabama A&M - 14, Cincinnati - 34
3rd Down Efficiency: Alabama A&M - 1-13, Cincinnati 11-15
Total Yards: Alabama A&M - 246, Cincinnati - 638
Passing Yards: Alabama A&M - 148, Cincinnati - 340
Rushing Yards: Alabama A&M - 98, Cincinnati - 296
Cincinnati won a game they were supposed to. While their opponent was an inferior opponent, it's worth celebrating what we did see from the Bearcats. The offense had a rough patch, but Tuberville and the coaching staff got them settled down with the run game before the Bulldogs found too much momentum. Kiel looked sharp and the offensive playmakers will give defensive coordinators nightmares.
The defense did exactly what you want to see from them. They played fast and aggressive while avoiding mistakes. They earned a couple sacks and even a takeaway with the defense controlling the line of scrimmage. It may not sound like much considering the opponent, but Cincinnati went out and took care of business and now the Bearcats are 1-0 and getting ready for Week 2 against Temple.
FINAL SCORE: Cincinnati 52, Alabama A&M 10 pic.twitter.com/NmRrVoOVOV— Cincinnati Bearcats (@GoBEARCATS) September 6, 2015