One of the most interesting things to watch during the first year of a new coaching regime is how the offense comes together. While the roster may not be entirely built to serve the new head coach and offensive coordinator’s vision, the architecture will begin to show itself. Based on what the Cincinnati Bearcats did in the first year under Luke Fickell and Mike Denbrock, there is a lot more construction to be done.
While they were not the worst offensive team in the country, the Bearcats were pretty awful, ranking 97th in offensive S&P+. They also gained the fewest yards of any team in the American Athletic Conference while averaging a league-low 20.9 points per game. Bleh.
The Good: Who knew Hayden Moore could scoot? With a strong push down the stretch, the Bearcats starting signal caller finished with 312 yards and four scores on the ground. He tallied at least 50 yards three times and even scored two touchdowns and ran for 75 yards against UCF.
On the passing front, Moore threw more than twice as many touchdowns (20) as interceptions (nine) and did complete at least 60 percent of his pass attempts five times. A stronger finisher than starter, Moore posted a QB rating above 120 in each of the last five gmes, including a season-high 156.0 against Tulane.
The Bad: While Moore never lost the starting job to Ross Trail — who threw all of nine passes all season — he was still passable at best. He completed a pedestrian 56.4 percent of his pass attempts and averaged only six adjusted passing yards per attempt. Other than UConn’s David Pindell, who played in three fewer games, no eligible QB in the American Athletic Conference posted a QB rating lower than Moore’s 118.44. He also fell behind six other signal callers in passing yards per game (213.5 YPG).
In total, Moore’s body of work is certainly not bad. It is actually acceptable if UC were a dominant defensive squad or if the running game was the entire focal point of the offense. Unfortunately, the junior couldn’t lift the team on his shoulders like they needed. It remains to be seen if he can live up to that in his final season. Wow. Life comes at you fast.
Final Grade: C-
The Good: Gerrid effing Doaks.
Gerrid Doaks will be the best UC RB since Pead pic.twitter.com/S0ndpOEPzW— #CinCityPride (@TheCinCity) September 23, 2017
I’m not sure about the Pead thing, but I am ready to believe. Doaks was a fierce runner who didn’t let sometimes poor offensive line play get in his way. Doaks rushed for 513 yards on 87 carries, averaging a robust 5.9 yards per game. He also added 135 yards and a score through the air, finishing second on the team in yards from scrimmage (648). Michael Warren, a true freshman, found a role for himself as well, putting together 324 yards while averaging an even six yards per attempt.
The Bad: We’ll start this section where the last one began. Doaks was slowed by an injury near the end of the year, which is the only reason he didn’t lead the team in carries. That honor fell to Mike Boone, who ended up having a respectable year as part of a timeshare at the position, tallying 463 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, and 177 and one through the air. Boone was certainly an important part of the offense, ranking fourth on the team in receptions, but he still failed to return to the feast of touchdowns and yardage he indulged in from 2014 to 2015.
Final Grade: C+
The Good: Thank God for Kahlil Lewis. If it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure who would have caught passes for the Bearcats. Lewis finished with 676 yards and seven touchdowns on 61 receptions. Both of those marks were career-highs for the junior. He also topped out at 709 yards from scrimmage, which was more than any player on the team. Thomas Geddis also stepped up a bit to be the third option.
The Bad: Wait. Devin Gray only had 28 receptions?! Unfortunately that was true, which means Geddis was technically the second option since he ranked second on the team in receptions (29) although Gray was a bigger producer, tallying 444 yards compared to 388 from Geddis. After that, no other wide receiver had more than 11 receptions.
We should also mention the work by the tight ends, which was elevated from the last few years, but that’s not saying much. The offense will clearly feature the position a bit more, but with Tyler Cogswell and Josiah Deguara combining for all of 34 receptions and 247 yards, the next Travis Kelce may be far away.
Final Grade: D+
The Good: Moore certainly felt pressure this season, but not necesarily due to opposing pass rushes. The Bearcats actually did a fairly good job of protecting the man under center, letting up only 17 sacks. That ranked sixth in the AAC but tied for 26th in the country. You can blame that on a lack of big-time pass rushers in the conference if you want, but that shouldn’t take much away from the play up front. UC also tied for 36th in tackles for loss allowed (62), which is pretty good as well.
The Bad: Despite having some strong runners, the Bearcats did not have as much success when it came to pushing opposing defensive lines to aid the run game. Keeping opponents at bay worked, but UC was often overmatched and was unable to impose its will and create running lanes, as they ranked second to last in the AAC in rushing yards (1,624).
Final Grade: C
Based on the grades you’ve just seen, you might think UC was actually half decent offensively. That isn’t true, of course, and that is mainly due to the lack of yardage and the struggles in execution when it came to critical situations. The Bearcats converted only 38.95 percent of their third down tries, which ranked dead last in the AAC. They also had one of the worst red zone efficiency rates among league members. On top of that, there was a big play drought, with UC finishing with only 17 plays of 30 or more yards, which, you guessed it, ranked last in the conference.
Year two of the Denbrock/Fickell offense will be more telling than this one, since the roster will be more constructed and familiar with the system. However, there were very few bright spots in year one.
Final Grade: D-