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The matchups that will decide Cincinnati vs. Tulane

Last year’s showdown between these two programs was ultimately decided by a missed field goal. Here are some potential culprits for this weekend’s tilt.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

When a team wins (or loses) a game, it’s usually not because of just one play. For the Cincinnati Bearcats, that wasn’t exactly true for their win against the Tulane Green Wave last year. A missed field goal near the end of regulation was the saving grace for the Bearcats and why they left New Orleans with a 17-16 victory.

This year, with both teams fighting for a critical win in American Athletic Conference play at Nippert Stadium, there will be more at stake and that means more potential deciding factors. Let’s look at some.

UC’s defensive line vs. Tulane’s offensive line

Every rushing offense is only as good as its offensive line. Even Walter Payton would have had trouble racking up yards if the guys in front of him didn’t create openings and give him time to read, react and run.

Tulane’s normally vaunted rushing attack has been somewhat subdued this year, but that doesn’t mean the Green Wave are going to abandon the run. Far from it. Tulane is one of five teams in the American Athletic Conference averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game. There are plenty of skilled ball carriers as well, what with Darius Bradwell, Corey Dauphine and quarterback Jonathan Banks. Slowing them down will be tough, but the best way to do that is to control the line of scrimmage. That means giving Tulane’s backs zero space between the tackles and sealing the outside so there’s no escape to the edge.

Cortez Broughton has been exceptional at plugging holes up the middle and creating tackles for loss on behalf of the Bearcats. Marquise Copeland is a sure-handed tackler that doesn’t let guys get extra yards after first contact. Plus defensive end Kimoni Fitz just had his best game of the season against UConn (2.5 tackles for loss), so the Bearcats have the guys to make running the ball difficult for Tulane.

The Bearcats in the red zone vs. Tulane in the red zone

These teams are mirrors of each other in terms of red zone success. Tulane has scored on all eight of its red zone scores this season. We’ll just move past the fact that eight red zone trips in five games is pretty pathetic. The simple fact is, when Tulane gets close to the goal, it scores. So do the Bearcats, who have scored on 21-of-22 red zone trips, including a league-high 20 touchdowns.

Then there’s both team’s defensive work in the red zone. UC has let up only six red zone touchdowns and is third in the AAC in red zone defensive efficiency (72.7 percent). Tulane is a bit below that (76.2 percent) and while it has given up 13 red zone touchdowns, it is still a top five team in the league in red zone defense.

All these numbers illustrate that the Bearcats are better in the red zone overall, but Tulane can’t be ignored either. One of these teams will have the last red zone laugh on Saturday.

Josiah Deguara vs. Tulane’s pass defense

Tulane has had a lot of success defending against the tight end position this season. Whether its because teams don’t feature their tight ends as much or because the Green Wave have keyed in on some kryptonite for the position is debatable, but the point remains: tight ends haven’t done much against Tulane. In fact, the Green Wave has allowed a grand total of four receptions to the position this year.

What does that mean for UC? Well, it could mean everything to the passing game. Junior tight end Josiah Deguara has blossomed as a pass-catcher and has quickly become Desmond Ridder’s favorite target. He leads the team in receptions (18), receiving yards (247) and touchdown grabs (3) following an impressive showing against UConn (five receptions, 112 yards, TD). The Bearcats would like another game like that, but Tulane will do all it can to deny the request.

UC’s offensive line vs. Tulane’s rejuvenated pass rush

Rushing the passer is not exactly the strong suit for the Green Wave, who rank ninth in the AAC in sacks (13.0), but in their win against Memphis last week, they recorded half of those, while adding nine tackles for loss. Cincinnati has only allowed 17 sacks this season and 62 tackles for loss, ranking second in the AAC in the latter category. Ensuring Ridder has time to throw and Michael Warren isn’t stopped in the backfield could decide this one.

Merek Glover vs. the memory of last year’s miss

Closers are supposed to have short memories, but kickers should as well. Dwelling on one missed kick could end up costing you big time down the road. That’s the position Tulane’s Merek Glover could find himself on Saturday. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then let me remind you. Last year, the Bearcats escaped with a 17-16 win on the road against Tulane and Glover was saddled with much of the blame, as he missed a 36-yard field goal attempt with less than two minutes to play. The Bearcats were able to run out the clock from there and win the game. They’ll try to do something similar this weekend.