Football is a game where 11 players battle 11 others for field position and points. Then those same teams switch sides and a different 11 players battle a different 11 players for the same objective. While those are the most important matchups, there are some smaller ones that can make all the difference. Sometimes its one player versus another. Sometimes its one positional group taking on its counterpart. With the Cincinnati Bearcats set to defend their 12-game winning streak in the Battle for the Victory Bell this weekend, here are the smaller matchups that will determine who wins and who loses.
The Miami-Ohio offensive line vs. Cincinnati’s rejuvenated pass rush
Rejoice, for the Bearcats finally figured out how to put pressure on an opposing quarterback. In their season opening win against UCLA, the Bearcats had five sacks, nearly reaching the halfway mark for their entire production from last year. Thanks to constant aggression from Cortez Broughton and Bryan Wright, they were able to keep UCLA’s signal callers uncomfortable. Miami-Ohio’s Gus Ragland just threw for 357 yards against Marshall and he was upright for most of that, suffering only one sack. If the RedHawks can protect him once again, UC could have some real troubles defending the pass. If things go the other way, Miami will be riding the struggle bus.
Tyrell Gilbert/Coby Bryant vs. James Gardner
Don’t let Gardner’s subdued first game fool you; he can seriously catch the ball. He is one of the best wideouts the Bearcats will face this season and whoever lines up across from him needs to be on top of their game. Gilbert and Bryant are the players most likely to fill that role, as both started at corner back against UCLA. The Bearcats’ secondary did a good job overall in that one, holding the Bruins’ top pass-catcher, Theo Howard, to only 52 yards. Repeating that type of success will be the second part of a two-step recipe for stopping Miami’s passing game.
Desmond Ridder vs. what might/should be his first career start
Hayden Moore is still listed as the starter on the depth chart, at least in UC’s game notes for this week, but after Ridder led them the Bearcats to victory last week, it would seem illogical to not give the redshirt freshman a chance at starting.
Ridder might as well have started against UCLA. Moore was the first quarterback in the game for the Bearcats, but he was out after only two offensive series. Ridder came in and showed plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his future. However, he also had some issues completing passes down the stretch and ultimately had a fine, but not exceptional game when you take out the context of it being his first collegiate action.
While Luke Fickell won’t officially confirm who will be out there at the beginning of the game, it would make sense that Ridder would start. If he does, he will not benefit from the element of surprise against the RedHawks, as he will be making his first career start with some game tape of his abilities out there to study. UC will likely continue to ride the run game, but at some point Ridder will need to make plays.
Gerrid Doaks and Michael Warren vs. lingering injury concerns
We still don’t know when Doaks is going to return to the field. If Warren keeps playing like he did against UCLA, Doaks can bide his time as long as he wants. However, last year’s leading rusher could really help share the load and keep Warren fresh after the latter touched the ball 38 times and got hit plenty last week. For now, Warren is listed as the No. 1 back on the depth chart and we might have to wait longer to see Doaks play again.
Both teams vs. third down
In 2017, Cincinnati ranked 78th nationally in third down conversion rate. Miami was even worse, finishing 90th. Neither team seemed to have solved that problem last weekend. The Bearcats converted only 5-of-18 chances and can’t expect a limitless supply of fourth down magic.
On the other side, Miami converted only 5-of-15 third down tries and failed on most of its fourth down chances as well (2-for-5). If a few more of those drives kept going, the RedHawks could have defeated Marshall.