Playing on the road is difficult. Jeering fans and unfamiliar locker rooms make for tough sledding. The Cincinnati Bearcats finally wrapped up their toughest stretch of the season last weekend, a three-game road trip which featured games against against Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and Navy. They scraped by enough to come away with a record still at .500. Now is the time to use home-field advantage to build on that.
On Saturday night, the Bearcats will host the Marshall Thundering Herd in a non-conference matchup at Nippert Stadium. The game is just the second home contest for the Bearcats this season and first against a Division I-A opponent.
That brings us to Marshall, a program that hit rock bottom last year, going 3-9 following three-straight 10-win seasons. UC hasn’t had anything to do with any of those teams, with its last meeting against the Herd coming in 2008 when it won 33-10. However, Marshall, which seems to be on a better trajectory than last season (2-1) did play Miami (Ohio) earlier this season and won 31-26. The Herd also shut out Kent State 21-0 in their last outing, which was two weeks ago. Oh great, that means they’ll be rested.
It’s impossible to say Hayden Moore has figured it out, but he sure did look impressive against Navy last weekend. After managing only 505 passing yards in the first three games, including less than 200 twice, Moore exceeded all expectations and played a nearly flawless game under center against the Midshipmen. He tallied 381 yards and three touchdowns and wasn’t intercepted once. He also completed a solid 28-of-46 pass attempts, while spreading the ball to 10 different receivers.
It’s not as if he was given unlimited time in the pocket either, as he was sacked twice, so Moore elevated his composure and went on to make sharp passes and hit on some deep balls. It was a major step forward and against the nation’s No. 89 passing defense in Marshall, Moore has a real opportunity to prove last week was no fluke.
Key to that initiative will be the play of Devin Gray and Kahlil Lewis. All summer we talked about how these two were the best wide receivers on the team and until last week, only Lewis had shown that to be true. Gray finally had a good game against Navy. His 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown was a major offensive highlight and showed that he has playmaking ability, as he finished with 112 yards and six catches. Lewis had six receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown, but he’s been just fine all season.
Moore can’t just zero in on one or two pass catchers if he’s going to replicate his success though. That means Thomas Geddis, Jerron Rollins and JJ Pinckney need to find open spaces down field and Tyler Cogswell needs to be an effective route runner in the short field so Moore can feed the tight end.
Improved offensive line play will be mandatory as well, with the Bearcats still yet to play a completely cohesive game in the trenches. The running game suffered because of that last week, and not just because Mike Boone was out with an injury. Gerrid Doaks did average 4.2 yards per carry, but the Bearcats posted a mark of 2.5 all together. Doaks may not be the primary ball carrier as he’s been the last two weeks since Boone is expected to come back. That is smashing news.
Well let’s take a look here, can Marshall run the ball?
*Scans nation’s leading rushing teams by yards*
*Finds Marshall at No. 114*
So the Thundering Herd can’t run the ball all that well, with only 318 yards in three games. They also don’t run it all too often, having only 83 rushing attempts, which outpaces only Ole Miss, Miami (Florida) and Florida State at the Division 1-A level.
You can argue that UC’s struggles against running offenses has been oversold since Navy was the last team on the schedule, but even without the Midshipmen’s triple-option, UC has had trouble locking up runners. The Bearcats allowed 224 yards to Austin Peay and 193 against Michigan. They broke out of the funk against Miami (Ohio), allowing 70 yards on 32 attempts, but Navy found running lanes everywhere. It appears this will not be a time when UC will need to be at the top of its run defense game, but this is still an area of worry for the whole season.
As an overall offense, Marshall ranks 101st in offensive S&P+. That is more good news for the UC defense, which has played three solid games and one bad one. It may be outside the top 50 in defensive S&P+, but the defense has usually been better than the offense. It is a sound tackling unit led by players like Jaylyin Minor, Malik Clements and Perry Young , who are all racking up stops at accelerated rates. What the defense really needs is improved and consistent play from the defensive line and increased quarterback pressure.
However, in this game, against a Marshall team that is more successful through the air, the secondary will probably be tested a bit more than its used to. That could be great if Clements and Linden Stephens play to their ability, but could be bad if receivers sneak into the second level and big plays rain down in the Ring of Red.
Navy wasn’t the most exciting offense in the world but it was an effective one. Marshall shouldn’t match that, and UC’s defense should be in for a bounce back game. What will be most important to see is a continuation of efficient passing from Moore and additional big plays from the Bearcats offense as a whole. Marshall is just the team to keep the momentum going against. Cincinnati 27 Marshall 17