It was a tale of two halves for the Cincinnati Bearcats and their offense on Saturday. While they managed to find the end zone twice in the first 30 minutes, it was a laborious process getting those points. One of the touchdowns was gift-wrapped, as a 21-yard punt return and tacked on yardage from a penalty gave the Bearcats the ball nine yards from the end zone, setting up their first touchdown.
The tide turned after halftime, with the Bearcats scoring 21 points in the third quarter and finally showing an ability to move the ball effectively.
When you put it all together, it was a perfectly fine offensive showing. Here are the highs and lows of the night.
The Good: Ridder finally found his footing in the second half. After being forced to dump it off way too much in the first half (46 passing yards), Ridder threw for 148 yards in the second. Interestingly enough, his two touchdown passes both came in the first 30 minutes, but they were on strikes of eight and 13 yards, respectively. That’s not exactly Tom Brady to Randy Moss circa 2007 style touchdown throws. Those types of connections were reserved for the second half, when Ridder completed two passes of more than 30 yards.
Aside from his passing, Ridder was able to make some moves on the ground, rushing for 60 yards. In fact, a 13-yard run from Ridder on a second-and-14 during UC’s first drive of the third quarter set the team up for a 57-yard touchdown run from running back Michael Warren. Depending on how you look at it, that could very well be the crack in USF’s defense that Warren blew wide open.
The Bad: As mentioned, the first half was not great for the passing game. Ridder did complete a reasonable 9-of-14 attempts, but its easy to complete passes when they are only a few yards down field. Ridder averaged only 5.3 yards per completion in the first half. USF’s defense deserves some credit for covering UC’s receivers, but Ridder isn’t entirely blameless.
Final Grade: B
The Good: If Michael Warren played for a team in the SEC or the Big Ten, he would be challenging Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa for the Heisman Trophy. Unfortunately, the Bearcats are being largely ignored by the college football world outside of the American Athletic Conference, which means Warren’s work this season is not getting the recognition it deserves.
On Saturday, Warren did everything the Bearcats needed. He ran the ball effectively and caught passes, finishing with 178 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving). His 57-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter was the turning point in the game and his season-high rushing total (151) pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. The last Bearcat to do that was George Winn in 2012.
Warren was the lead back by a long shot, but Charles McClelland continued his work as the primary backup. On the rare occasions that Warren needed a break, McClelland was there, providing 29 yards on five carries.
The Bad: The Bearcats rushed for 238 total yards and Warren and McClelland both averaged more than five yards per carry. There’s nothing to complain about here.
Final Grade: A
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The Good: Let’s talk about Rashad Medaris, who has cemented himself as the vertical threat in the passing game. He finished with 92 yards on four catches on Saturday and brought in both of Ridder’s passes of more than 30 yards. The junior wideout is averaging 17.9 yards per catch and is third on the team in receptions now (24). There may not be tons of season left, but we finally know who the undisputed third receiving target (and home run hitter) is on this team.
The two guys above Medaris in terms of targets are Kahlil Lewis and tight end Josiah Deguara. Lewis has big-play potential, but has largely turned into a possession receiver that Ridder can rely on when he needs to get eight yards on a third down. Lewis caught five passes for 37 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, and has had at least five receptions in each of the last three games.
The Bad: Deguara’s role in the offense has been diminishing down the stretch. He had only two catches for 14 yards against USF. After averaging 51.4 yards and 3.6 receptions per game during the first five weeks of the season, he has averaged 29.8 and 2.6 during the last five. Including Deguara’s production, the rest of the receiving corps combined for 38 yards on six catches this week. UC’s offensive strategy is to lean on the run, so there aren’t as many chances for pass-catchers, but that’s still a pretty small amount.
Final Grade: C+
The Good: It took a while, but the line was finally able to open up large running lanes for Warren, Ridder and McClelland. UC averaged 4.6 yards per carry and also held the ball for more than 37 minutes in the win. The line deserves credit for going to work and not letting up.
The Bad: Ridder wasn’t always allowed to be comfortable in the pocket, as he was sacked three times. The Bearcats also surrendered six total tackles for loss. Chris Ferguson and tight end Wilson Huber were each flagged for false start penalties as well, but this was an otherwise clean game.
Final Grade: B
This was still not the most efficient offensive performance from the Bearcats. They only had 164 total yards at halftime and even with the second half upswing, failed to score on two of six red zone trips. However, despite a bit of uneven play, the Bearcats still performed well on third down (9-of-16) and finished with 432 total yards. That huge time of possession disparity played a major role in the win, while Warren was clearly the guy leading the charge and boosting the Bearcats from struggling to score to putting up 35 points.
Final Grade: B+