It is pretty incredible to think about, but the Cincinnati Bearcats are just one win away from gaining bowl eligibility for the first time since 2015. To get that magical sixth win, they’ll need to dispatch the Tulane Green Wave at Nippert Stadium this weekend.
However, after starting 5-0, the Bearcats are no longer just hoping to play in the postseason. This team has overcome every challenge they have been handed and that has ratcheted up the confidence and the expectations for this team. After dismantling UConn in their American Athletic Conference opener, the Bearcats are beginning to lay a foundation for a legitimate run toward a league title. Of course, UConn isn’t exactly a powerhouse and stronger challengers will present themselves in the weeks to come.
One of those stronger challengers may just be Tulane. The Green Wave are only 2-3 overall, but they just destroyed the Memphis Tigers 40-24 in their own AAC opener. Antithetical to the thought of Tulane as an AAC threat is the fact that it hasn’t had a winning record since 2013, but head coach Willie Fritz has the program on and upward trajectory, as it increased its win total from the previous year in each of the last two seasons. Now the Green Wave are 1-0 in league play and have a chance to get that second win against a UC team that has proven its legitimacy.
If you just ignore the first quarter of the Ohio game in week four, the Bearcats have been on a roll offensively. They have averaged 48.7 points per game in the last three contests and actually rank fourth in the AAC in total offense (472.2 YPG). Those numbers may be overly inflated since the last three opponents were an FCS squad and two teams ranked 89th and 129th, respectively, in defensive S&P+. Still, UC is taking advantage and that shows the offense has life. Plus, Tulane isn’t setting any defensive records, sitting at No. 71 in the country in defensive S&P+.
The backfield tandem of quarterback Desmond Ridder and running back Michael Warren has been the key for UC this season. Warren has fought for extra yards and not been afraid to take on defenders. He has also shown great vision and speed once he gets past the line of scrimmage. He leads the AAC in rushing attempts (106) and rushing touchdowns (10), while ranking second in yardage (541). You can pretty much bank on the fact that he will get a ton of work and probably score at least once this weekend.
Meanwhile, Ridder has just gotten better and better since his debut in week one. He completed 20-of-26 pass attempts for 276 yards and two touchdowns against UConn. With a 67 percent completion rate and an adjusted yards per attempt of 10.0 yards, Ridder has not only been efficient but effective in creating plays through the air. He has 888 yards passing and six touchdowns compared to one interception, which is a pretty solid total considering UC’s adherence to the run game. Speaking of, Ridder also helps on the ground, as he has rushed for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
One of the most impressive aspects of Ridder’s ascension is his ability to get multiple receivers involved. Tight end Josiah Deguara (18 receptions, 247 yards, 3 TDs) has been the primary target, but Kahlil Lewis, Jayshon Jackson, Rashad Medaris and Thomas Geddis have all gotten a decent amount of work as well. In that way, Ridder has helped himself by not singling in on one receiver and making an opposing defense’s job easier.
For the third-straight week, the Bearcats will be facing an offense headed by a dual-threat quarterback. First it was Ohio’s Nathan Rourke then UConn’s David Pindell. Now they will be challenged by Jonathan Banks, who has not been off to a great start. This year, the senior from Houston has only completed 50.9 percent of his passes and run for a mere 75 yards. He has still managed to limit his mistakes, with just one interception, but he isn’t on track to reach 500 rushing yards again.
That’s just fine for Tulane if Corey Dauphine and Darius Bradwell keep performing at such a high level as a backcourt tandem. Dauphine has been especially effective this year, averaging 10.2 yards per carry on his way to 376 yards and a team-high five touchdowns. Bradwell has gotten more of the work (61 carries compared to 37), and has turned that into 379 yards and four scores.
With Dauphine and Bradwell (and Banks when everything’s working), the Green Wave can be a terrifying rushing offense. Tulane has averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game in each of Fritz’s first two seasons and that has continued, but by putting up roughly 203 a game so far, they have not been as productive.
That isn’t likely to change all that much against UC’s defense, which is the very best in the AAC this season. The Bearcats are allowing only 117.2 rushing yards per game and are tops in the league in total (276 YPG) and scoring defense (12.2 PPG). In fact, they are the only team in the AAC allowing fewer than 300 yards of total offense per game.
Three Numbers That Matter
4 - Tulane has allowed only four receptions to tight ends this season. Josiah Deguara, UC’s starting tight end, leads the Bearcats in catches (18), receiving yards (247) and receiving touchdowns.
36 - That’s the distance in yards of the potential game-winning field goal Tulane missed against UC last year.
10 - Warren has scored 10 touchdowns this season. The rest of the team has 17 combined.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati - Cortez Broughton, DL
UC’s defensive might will be tested by Tulane’s ground game and the first person to get a chance at interrupting that strategy will be Broughton.
Tulane - Corey Dauphine, RB
When someone is averaging more than 10 yards per carry (like Dauphine is), he demands your attention.
Prior to its win over Memphis last weekend, Tulane looked to be on the ropes. After routing the Tigers, the Green Wave now look like a serious contender. The true identity of the team is probably somewhere in between. With that written, they pose a healthy challenge to UC. While the Bearcats have been riding high through the first five weeks, they can’t afford to let their guard down now. Expect defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and head coach Luke Fickell to put together an effective scheme to stop Tulane’s running game and for UC’s offense to once again ask Warren and Ridder to win the day. Cincinnati 27 Tulane 20