Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Can you name the last year in which the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Ohio Bobcats played football against each other? If you guessed 1981, you are clearly a UC history savant. Even though these two teams are less than a three-hour drive away from each other, there have been 37 years since they last faced off, but that all changes on Saturday at noon when the Bobcats visit the Bearcats at Nippert Statium.
This is an important game for the Bearcats. Even though they are already 3-0 overall and well on their way to a bowl bid, they are just about to reach the most critical part of the year: the American Athletic Conference schedule. Any weaknesses need to be ironed out now or else the suddenly upstart Bearcats are not going to compete for a league title. UC has shown that it isn’t messing around this year, and going 4-0 in non-conference play would really drive that message home.
Ohio isn’t going to let that happen without putting up a fight. The Bobcats are also in need of a win. At 1-1 overall, the Bobcats only beat Howard and coupled that with a loss to Virginia. They still have plenty of time to turn things around, especially in relation to the Mid-American Confernce chase, but letting another game slip away and setting themselves in a 1-2 hole won’t help.
It may seem odd to say, but this is probably the first time we are really going to see what the UC offense is made of. In week one, starting quarterback Hayden Moore was pulled right away, so the gameplan obviously changed. Heavy rain definitely impacted the week two meeting with Miami-Ohio and Alabama A&M wasn’t exactly a fair challenger. Now that Desmond Ridder is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, the gameplan should be set and with good weather and a FBS opponent on the other side, this is a fair test.
Beginning with Ridder, we’ve seen that he has done well for himself and is already becoming a fan favorite. He hasn’t been asked to do too much with his arm, but he has completed 62.2 percent of his pass attempts and is averaging 9.4 adjusted yards per attempt, giving the team a signal caller who isn’t afraid to let it fly.
Ridder also aids the running game, which really didn’t need any help at all against Alabama A&M. The Bearcats rushed for a whopping 409 yards in that game and that helped get them ranked fourth in the AAC in rushing offense. Michael Warren is the rock that UC leans on, as he has accumulated 70 carries in only three weeks. The only reason the number is that low is because he was given a reprieve during the 63-7 win over Alabama A&M. That allowed Tavion Thomas and Charles McClelland to show they could ball, and that might lead to a bit more rest for Warren. There’s also the wild card of Gerrid Doaks, but we still can’t be sure when he will return to game health after sitting out the first three weeks.
Even though the Bearcats will be running the ball as the first option, they still need an aerial attack. They finally appeared to have one against Alabama A&M, but that needs to carry over now that the competition has improved. Kahlil Lewis had four receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown last week and Jayshon Jackson has turned into a favorite target. Those are trends that should continue, as well as the emergence of Josiah Deguara, who may only have 66 yards receiving, but the tight end is second on the team in receptions (7) and leads the way in touchdown grabs (2).
Despite the talent on the offensive side of the ball, the Bearcats are still just 105th in the country in offensive S&P+, but they’re facing one of the worst defensive teams in the in the Bobcats, who rank 128th in defensive S&P+. Perhaps Ohio’s greatest strength on defense is creating turnovers, with seven gained in only two games.
17, 0 and 7. Those are the last three scores to be put up against the Bearcats. To say that they have been defending well would be an understatement. Even if the metrics aren’t entirely convinced (26th in defensive S&P+), the results on the field speak for themselves. UC leads the AAC in total defense (228.7 yards allowed per game) and is tied for third in sacks (7.0).
One of the most promising developments has been in the secondary where cornerback Tyrell Gilbert has found his calling while safeties James Wiggins and Darrick Forrest are really coming into their own. Wiggins has been especially good, as he currently is tied for the team-lead in tackles (14), including two for loss, along with an interception and two pass deflections.
As well as the secondary has played, the defensive line has really made the largest impression. We all know Cortez Broughton is racking up plenty of tackles for loss, but Marquise Copeland has quietly tied for the team-lead in total tackles while Michael Pitts and Kimoni Fitz are contributing as well. The front-facing defense has also gotten solid play from linebackers like Bryan Wright and Perry Young.
All hands will need to be on deck for Ohio, which features the No. 36 offense in the country by S&P+ measurements. It begins with dual-threat quarterbacks Nathan Rourke and Quinton Maxwell. The duo have combined for 523 passing yards and four touchdown throws, while rushing for 78 yards with two more scores, both from Maxwell. No matter who is under center, expect Papi White to be targeted quite a bit, as he has already caught 14 passes for 285 yards in only two games.
Three Numbers That Matter
59.38 percent - Ohio has been dreadful on third down, allowing teams to convert on almost 60 percent of their chances in such situations. The Bearcats aren’t the best third down offense, but they could take advantage of this weakness.
358 - Even after handling the ball only seven times against Alabama A&M (six rushes, one reception), Warren has still tallied 358 yards from scrimmage, which makes up roughly 28 percent of UC’s entire offensive output.
12 - UC has scored 12 touchdowns in 13 red zone opportunities, while adding a field goal in the only touchdown-less drive. We had the red zone numbers in here last week and will continue to do so until somebody stops the Bearcats.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati - Desmond Ridder, QB
The redshirt freshman completed 9-of-10 passes for 199 yards and three scores last week, but that was against Alabama A&M. There’s plenty of tape out there for opposing defenses to gameplan for him now, which means Ridder needs to take the next step in his development.
Ohio - Papi White, WR
Nobody on the Ohio roster besides White has more than four receptions. He is going to get target after target after target.
Before the season started, I had this penciled in as a loss for the Bearcats. Now that we’ve seen how much this team has improved, I’m changing my tune. That’s not to say Ohio won’t give them a challenge. The offensive weapons for the Bobcats are legit and will make the UC defense work. Luckily, that’s just what the unit likes to do. Cincinnati 31 Ohio 27