Deep breaths, ya’ll. Deep. Breaths.
For nearly 30 minutes of game time last night, the Cincinnati Bearcats looked like they were going to find a way to outdo the disappointment of last season, falling behind early to FCS foe Tennessee-Martin. However, they managed to salvage the day and earn a 28-7 win. Here are the biggest takeaways from said win, even if it felt more like a loss.
The defense did enough
As with any of the positives from this game, this needs to be taken with a moon-sized grain of salt, but the defense looked pretty good against the Skyhawks. The unit limited UTM to just seven points and 323 total yards of offense. After allowing UTM to gain 75 yards on its first drive of the game, the Bearcats never surrendered a drive of more than 41 yards and tightened up in the red zone, leading to a pair of missed field goals.
An area of focus for this year’s defense was the pass rush and UC had a great deal of success in that regard, at least in comparison to last season. After accumulating an American Athletic Conference-low 13 sacks during all of 2015, the Bearcats had three in the opener. They also forced three turnovers and held the Skyhawks to a 1-of-4 success rate in the red zone. It wasn’t the ‘85 Bears or anything, but it was enough to give the offense time to warm up.
Eric Wilson is a tackling monster
A second-team All-AAC selection in 2015, Wilson showed that he is easily one of the best linebackers in the conference and certainly the best one on the UC roster. He was all over the place in the opener, recording a ridiculous 15 tackles, including two sacks. He also threw in a pass breakup for good measure. Wilson’s star is rising.
Tion Green ran well, Mike Boone struggled
The two-headed monster the Bearcats feature at running back managed to rack up 127 yards on the ground. However, the split between Green and Boone was not exactly even. Green mashed his way to 97 yards on 16 carries (6.1 YPC) and was the steady force the Bearcats needed as the offense struggled to find a rhythm, although he did lose a fumble.
Boone, pegged as the home run hitter, only had 35 yards on 12 carries. He was stuffed for a loss of five yards on his first carry, which was one of 10 attempts that yielded two yards or fewer. On the flip side, Green had more than two yards on all but four of his carries.
As far as the split in workload, Green and Boone both got a fairly even amount of attention, seemingly alternating as the feature back each drive.
Devin Gray breaks out
Nate Cole filled his role as the go-to receiver, leading the way in receptions (six) and putting together 64 yards and a touchdown. However, it was Gray that made the biggest plays in the passing game, finishing with 111 yards on five receptions, including a 47-yard gain on his first FBS reception. During UC’s first touchdown drive, quarterback Hayden Moore fed Gray quite a bit, hitting him three times for 46 yards during the 80-yard march. The JUCO transfer is clearly going to be a key part of the passing game.
Hayden Moore’s shaky night
This was an important game for Moore, who beat out Gunner Kiel and Ross Trail for the starting quarterback job. He did not exactly silence contractors in this one, meaning discussion about who should be under center will continue into the season. Moore completed a solid percentage (21-of-34), but finished with only 260 yards, while turning the ball over (interception and a fumble) as many times as he threw touchdown passes. Moore had trouble with ball security a year ago, as he was responsible for 14 turnovers (11 interceptions, four fumbles) and that’s not counting the four other fumbles that were recovered by the Bearcats.
Third down weakness
On both sides of the ball, UC had trouble on third down. The Skyhawks converted on 9-of-16 third down attempts, which is not ideal, especially when you can’t seem to get your own offense going. The Bearcats managed to convert on only 5-of-13 of their own third down tries (38.5 percent), which was far below its rate from a year ago (51 percent) when they led the AAC.
Failing to end drives meant UTM’s offense was on the field a lot. In all, the Skyhawks had 37:06 in time of possession, meaning UC’s defense played more than half of the game. That makes its effort look that much better.
This was not the slam dunk opening win the Bearcats had drawn up. Failing to overcome a foe of UTM’s caliber for an entire half does not exactly instill confidence that UC is about to have a big bounce back from last year’s 7-6 squad. Despite the efforts of Wilson and the rest of the defense, as well as Green and Gray, the Bearcats still have a lot of work to do.