Most people are in awe of the Cleveland Indians’ current winning streak, which is the longest in MLB history. Also it isn’t.
There’s another winning streak in the state of Ohio that will be put to the test this weekend, a the Cincinnati Bearcats visit the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks in the Battle for the Victory Bell. The Bearcats have won 11-straight games against the RedHawks. That is the longest such streak of the ancient rivalry, which dates back to 1888.
The streak continued under Tommy Tuberville, who’s departure may have elicited applause from Bearcats fans, but the fact is he never lost this game. That is one of the few ways in which Luke Fickell needs to be like his predecessor. UC (1-1) is taking aim at not only its 12th-straight win against Miami but its first win against a team from the DI level this season, as it lost to Michigan last weekend after beating Austin Peay in the opener.
Miami’s lone win of the season also came against Austin Peay, which followed a 31-26 setback against Marshall in the first weekend of the season.
It’s not good. The Bearcats’ offense has basically been Mike Boone and a handful of bubble gum wrappers. Boone has been doing as best as he can with a high volume. He is tied for fourth in the American Athletic Conference in total yards from scrimmage (181) and has had 38 total touches, including 17 last week against Michigan. He had a great game against Miami a year ago, with 108 yards and a score on 23 touches, In the Michigan game, he was unable to break off too many big runs, finishing with 44 yards on 12 rushes, but he caught five passes for 28 yards, as Hayden Moore relied on him for dump offs more than once.
Unfortunately, Boone is listed as questionable in this contest, which means Gerrid Doaks, who had 25 yards on six carries last week, could be in for an expanded role.
Getting back to Moore, this will be just his second game against Miami. The first came in 2015 when he went 7-for-14 on pass attempts and was intercepted twice. He didn’t play against the RedHawks last year, with Ross Trail getting the start in that one. Trail may be ready to play this week, so there’s a chance we get Trail vs. Miami part two, but Moore is still the projected starter, even if he hasn’t been great so far.
To that point, Moore has completed only 47.1 percent of his 68 pass attempts this season while averaging only four adjusted passing yards per attempt. Too many short passes and errant ones further down the field have robbed the Bearcats of a potentially exciting vertical passing attack. With Kahlil Lewis, Thomas Geddis and Jerron Rollins, the Bearcats have some explosive receivers. Lewis leads the team in receptions (eight), yards (70) and touchdown catches (two), but is only averaging 8.8 yards per reception. He had a team-high six receptions for 88 yards against Miami a year ago. Devin Gray has not been utilized as much as hoped while Geddis and Rollins have combined for all of seven grabs.
Tight end Tyler Cogswell has factored in much more than prior seasons, as his four receptions and one touchdown have already tied his personal bests.
Expect the Bearcats to try to get Boone the ball quite a bit as usual and for Moore to be pressed to make more passes down the field against Miami, which is just 70th in the country in defensive S&P+ but still has some skill.
Miami isn’t anything special offensively, ranking 89th in the country in offensive S&P+ and seventh in the Mid-American Conference in total offense. That’s even with a game against Austin Peay in the mix. Gus Ragland runs the show from under center. He has not been the most efficient of passers, only completing 51.5 percent of his attempts, but he has picked up yards at a fairly decent clip, tallying 443 to go with five touchdowns and an interception.
Ragland really likes throwing the ball to James Gardner, a 6’4” wideout who already has 228 yards and two scores through two games. Gardner had a solid season in 2016, catching 45 passes for 750 yards and six touchdowns. He will be tough to deal with for the UC secondary, which didn’t really hamper Wilton Speight much last week. The defense will also have to keep an eye on tight end Ryan Smith, who has seven catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
While the passing game has some promise, the RedHawks run far more often than they throw. Alonzo Smith has run the ball 35 times for 144 yards, but has yet to score. Kenny Young is the backup and already has 20 carries. That means the front seven will be tested for UC, which is good if Jaylyin Minor continues his assault. He is tied for the third most tackles in the AAC, with fellow defenders Perry Young and Malik Clements also in the top five. Sound tackling has clearly been a priority for Fickell and his staff, and it has shown through as the defense has been decent, ranking 41st in the country in S&P+.
Three Numbers That Matter
11 - Cincinnati has won the last 11 meetings with Miami. It’s on Fickell to push that streak to 12.
5 - The Bearcats recorded five sacks in the 2016 Battle for the Victory Bell. They have only two through the first two games of 2017. Getting more pressure will be critical as the season progresses.
208.5 - Opponents have rushed all over the Bearcats, who have let up more than 200 yards per game on the ground. That can’t continue against a Miami team that likes to run.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati - Jaylyin Minor, LB
The newest tackling machine at linebacker, Minor will be leaned on heavily to keep the Miami running game in check.
Miami (Ohio) - James Gardner, WR
While Smith and Young will probably be featured more prominently, Gardner has the type of game-changing ability that could spell nightmare for the UC secondary.
Here are some reasons to think that Miami will beat UC. The RedHawks are playing at home and they run the ball well. Plus, they opened as six-point favorites and Vegas doesn’t make lines like that willy nilly. Here are some reasons that Miami won’t beat UC. The Bearcats actually played tough against Michigan, just not for four quarters. Playing in Oxford is not like playing in Ann Arbor. The defense is coming into its own, led by Minor and the offense should continue to improve. Plus there are those 11 other reasons. Cincinnati 28 Miami (Ohio) 21