Those are the final scores of the last two meetings between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the USF Bulls and no, the Bearcats were not on the winning side. Now a rebuilding UC program will have to test themselves against the No. 18 Bulls on the road, as the two teams clash in American Athletic Conference play at at Raymond James Stadium.
Facing a team that has beat them up badly of late is not what UC needs right now. The Bearcats have lost three-straight games by a combined score of 131-76. Now 2-5 overall and winless in league play (0-2), they are hurtling out of bowl contention and this weekend’s matchup doesn’t set up as a great stepping stone back toward competitiveness. Unless...
Before we get to how an upset can be pulled (spoilers: it probably can’t), let’s check in with the Bulls, who are 5-0 overall and nice and rested after a bye week. Considered the overwhelming favorite to win the AAC entering this season, the Bulls haven’t exactly dominated, even if their 5-0 record would say otherwise. They’ve given up more points than they’d like, and a lackluster win in the opener against Stony Brook seems to still be hanging over them. But they are still undefeated and hitting their offensive stride.
UC has a chance to score more than usual one. While the Bulls have only allowed 20 points per game this season, they just let up 31 to East Carolina and the fact that their offense moves quickly means the Bearcats will have their chances. It’s capitalizing on those opportunities and sustaining drives that will determine whether UC loses by 40 or by 20 (or pulls the upset even). They showed some progress in that regard against UCF, converting 9-of-15 third down tries and scoring on all four trips to the red zone, including three touchdowns. They are still in the bottom third of the league in both categories, but progress is progress.
What that progress masks, however, is the fact that UC just isn’t very good offensively. That’s not a revelation at this point in the season, but the Bearcats can’t run very well and the passing isn’t much better. All that adds up to the worst offense in the AAC by yards gained (331.3 YPG).
The run game shows promise for the future, but the here and now isn’t so pretty. As much as its good to see Gerrid Doaks and Michael Warren get touches, the slow breakdown of Mike Boone has been the story. Boone was held to 2.9 yards per carry against UCF and has only 184 rushing yards this season. Doaks has been the lead rusher despite Boone entering the season as the starter. Either way, the running backs have not been able to eat up chunks of yardage, which is partially on them and partially on ineffective play of the offensive line.
UC only ran for 141 yards against UCF because of Hayden Moore. I’ll let that sink in.
Moore rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns against UCF, but that type of production can’t be expected on a weekly basis. Moore also threw for 278 yards on 23-of-40 passing against the Knights and in the last few weeks has at least been able to push his yardage totals up, even if he is still missing throws more often than would be ideal.
On the other end of those throws is usually Kahlil Lewis, who is being worked hard at wide receiver. He has 31 receptions for 325 yards and four touchdowns on the season and the rest of the crop of receivers, while good for a big play here or there, has been underwhelming.
It’s simple. Stop the run. Well, it’s simple when I write it down, but probably not when the Bearcats take the field. USF has continued to be a team that moves the ball well on the ground thanks to an excellent assortment of running backs and a quarterback who can fly.
You all remember Quinton Flowers. The Bulls’ quarterback ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns against the Bearcats last season and he is still dangerous with the ball in his hands. While he hasn’t taken the step forward Bulls fans were hoping, he has still thrown for 934 yards and 10 touchdowns, compared to two interceptions, in five games. He also has 395 yards and five scores on the ground. He will be a problem for the largely ineffective UC pass rush, which has only six sacks.
The Bearcats don’t have to worry about Marlon Mack, though, the same guy who piled up 118 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s matchup. Unfortunately, D’Ernest Johnson, Darius Tice and Trevon Sands bring versatility and tons of explosive running ability to the cause.
Jaylyin Minor and Perry Young, UC’s primary tacklers, will be busy in this one as the Bulls offensive line will probably be able to give any of the Bulls’ ball carriers openings.
If the Bearcats are somehow able to slow the Bulls on the ground, Flowers can light it up through the air, especially when he’s working in sync with Marquez Valdes-Scantling who has been USF’s version of Lewis.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati - Devin Gray, WR
Lewis is going to be targeted a ton and UC is going to have to throw to stay competitive against an excellent offense. But Moore can’t rely on one receiver and hope to lead an upset. That means Gray has to step up.
USF - D’Ernest Johnson, RB
As much as the offense runs through Flowers, Johnson’s success or lack thereof will determine who wins this game. The senior running back is dealing with an injury so he may not play on Saturday, but if he does, he’ll get the ball a bunch.
Numbers That Matter
226 - That’s the number of yards USF rushed for against the Bearcats last season. Stopping the run has to be a priority.
14 - USF leads the nation in interceptions. The next best team has 10. Moore will be slinging it but he has to be careful.
27 - The Bulls average more first downs per game than any team in the AAC. UC ranks second to last (18.8)
I’ll level with you all. I am not looking forward to this game. Hoping for an upset can be fun when there’s any reason to believe you can win. There aren’t many signs pointing to a UC victory. The only way it can happen is if UC goes all out to stop the run and a shootout breaks out. Even then, Moore needs every one of his receivers to get open consistently and to hit said receivers. It’s a lot to ask for a program that is still rebuilding.
USF 58 Cincinnati 24