It wasn’t that long ago that the Cincinnati Bearcats started a season 2-0. It was actually in 2016. At the end of that campaign, Tommy Tuberville was fired and the Bearcats had their worst record since 2010.
The 2018 Bearcats are 2-0 and now they’re trying to reach a mark they haven’t been able to attain since 2012. That would be starting 3-0. That 2012 team actually won its first five games of the year and wound up going 10-3 overall. It’s a bit early to have dreams of such a fantastic finish this time around, but after the Bearcats stomped UCLA and Miami-Ohio, its not as crazy as it once was.
To get to 3-0, the Bearcats have to overcome a team that isn’t expected to be much of a challenge. Alabama A&M may have won its first two games of the season, but it went 4-7 last year and was defeated 52-10 last time it shared a field with the Bearcats (2015).
Naysayers of UC’s 2-0 start will point to the rather one-dimensional offense and its lack of big yardage totals. Those naysayers aren’t exactly wrong. The Bearcats have a total of 155 passing yards and 382 on the ground. The only other team in the American Athletic Conference to not reach 300 yards passing at this point is Navy, and its offense is built on a system that runs the ball almost exclusively.
Even if the passing game were working better, it would be tough to criticize the Bearcats for continuing to run. Michael Warren II is getting his Heisman campaign going, with 237 yards and five touchdowns. He is also third on the teams in receptions and has accounted for all but one of UC’s runs by running backs. The other half of the rushing equation, at least until Gerrid Doaks is healthy enough to play again, is sudden starting quarterback Desmond Ridder. The redshirt freshman is still finding himself as a passer (19-for-35, 145 yards, 1 TD), but he ran for 100 yards last week and better weather should help him improve through the air.
Warren and Ridder can only do so much. UC is still outside of the top 100 teams in the country in offensive S&P+ and rank second-to-last in the AAC in total offense. Alabama A&M could be just what the doctor ordered, but, for what its worth, the Bulldogs have succeeded on defense in the early going, allowing only 226 yards per game.
If there’s a reason the Bearcats are 2-0, its the defense. They got some help from heavy rain last weekend, but there’s no denying that this group can stop opposing offenses in their tracks. Ranked No. 16 in the country in defensive S&P+, UC is allowing only 252 yards per game, while teams have gotten into the red zone just once.
Cortez Broughton is leading the charge for a defensive line that has proven difficult to stop. The senior defensive tackle already has 5.5 tackles for loss and has helped UC’s bring the heat on opposing quarterbacks.
That pressure has helped make the job of the secondary easier, but that undersells how well the defensive backs have played. Safeties Darrick Forrest and James Wiggins have both made key interceptions and Tyrell Gilbert and Coby Bryant have faced two top flight wideouts in the last two weeks (James Garnder from Miami-Ohio and Theo Howard from UCLA) and come out the victors.
The offense the Bearcats will face has been rather balanced in terms of yardage (374 passing yards, 362 rushing), but the Bulldogs have run the ball 73 times compared to 44 pass attempts, 27 of which were completed. Keeping the line stacked will force the Bulldogs to pass more than they might like.
Three Numbers That Matter
5 - For how good they’ve been on defense, the Bearcats have not gotten the credit they deserve on special teams. They are ranked fifth in the country in special teams S&P+.
6 - Per Cincinnati’s athletic department, after shutting out the RedHawks last week, the Bearcats haven’t allowed a point in six of eight quarters played. They managed only five clean quarters all of last season.
7 - Cincinnati has reached the red zone seven times this season and scored each time. The Bearcats are one of five teams in the AAC with a 100 percent conversion rate after two weeks.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati - Kahlil Lewis, WR
I made a pretty bold prediction about Lewis to start the year. He’s still trying to find a rhythm with a young quarterback, but the senior wideout needs to do more than catch four balls for 20 yards. This could be a game where he breaks out.
Alabama A&M - Yurik Bethune, OLB
Alabama A&M’s leader in tackles for loss, Bethune will be a key to Alabama A&M’s efforts at slowing the Bearcats down.
Any given Sunday, right? The Bearcats have beaten two relatively decent FBS teams in the first two weeks, so even with its attacking defense, Alabama A&M doesn’t stand a great chance. You can’t say no chance, but its pretty close to that. Cincinnati 35 Alabama A&M 6