Malik Clements had himself a great Battle for the Victory Bell in 2018. His 14-yard interception return for a touchdown captured victory from the jaws of defeat for the Cincinnati Bearcats last fall and pushed the longest winning streak in the rivalry’s history to 12 games. As the Bearcats and the Miami-Ohio RedHawks get together for their 123rd meeting on the football field tonight, both teams are in much different circumstances than they were when Clements crossed the goal line last fall.
For Cincinnati (1-0), things couldn’t be going much better. Despite being major underdogs last weekend, the Bearcats stormed into the Rose Bowl and ran their way to a 26-17 win over the UCLA Bruins and Chip Kelly. It was quite the way for Luke Fickell and his squad to begin their second season together, especially with how well the defense played. (More on that later).
As for Miami, which would have been bowl eligible a year ago if it had avoided the collapse against UC, the season started with a loss last weekend. The RedHawks fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter against the Marshall Thundering Herd, and despite a late charge, failed to overcome that early deficit. Miami still leads the all-time series with UC, 59-56-7, and has the edge in Vegas, but we know this isn’t really a rivalry game you can predict.
Running the ball seemed to work last week and that was mainly thanks to Michael Warren. With Gerrid Doaks sitting out, Warren had a lot to do, running the ball 35 times and even adding three receptions. He managed 142 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and when you add in his receiving work, he accounted for 56.3 percent of UC’s total offensive output. Warren should be given a lot of chances again, especially since we are still waiting on the all clear with Doaks.
Even with Warren’s exemplary performance last week, UC didn’t turn over too many new leaves on offense compared to a year ago. The Bearcats are ranked 107th in the country in offensive S&P+ after week one and that’s because the passing game is still trying to figure itself out. Hayden Moore played two series and was swiftly pulled last week and redshirt freshman Desmond Ridder had some ups and downs as the replacement. As Ridder learns to become a more efficient passer, he can still add a lot to the run game with his ability to escape pressure and gain yards without even throwing a pass. We still don’t know what Fickell’s exact plan at quarterback is going forward, but Moore is listed as the No. 1 option on the most recent depth chart. That doesn’t mean Ridder won’t be playing this weekend, though.
If Fickell is going to try to keep Moore involved or build Ridder’s confidence, this could be a good week to do it. Miami didn’t show a lot of defensive competence against Marshall and is ranked 107th in the country in defensive S&P+ after one week of play.
If the season were to end today, not only would a lot of fans be very sad to be without college football, but it would be impossible not to consider UC one of the best defensive teams in the country. Currently a top 15 squad in defensive S&P+, the Bearcats dominated UCLA at every turn last weekend. Even with an offensive guru like Kelly calling the shots, the Bruins failed to get into much of a rhythm and broke under UC’s restocked pass rush. Cortez Broughton brought 3.5 sacks to the table from the defensive line, while linebacker Bryan Wright and safety James Wiggins both made big plays in the back seven.
More pressure will be needed this week, but the players that may be tested the most are in the secondary. Miami likes to throw the ball and why wouldn’t they? They have a quarterback who can sling it in Gus Ragland and one of the best wide receivers around in James Gardner. Ragland threw for 357 yards and three touchdowns against Marshall and Garnder hauled in 927 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. Running backs Alonzo Smith and Kenny Young shouldn’t be ignored either.
Three Numbers That Matter
5 - The Bearcats had five sacks against the Bruins last week. They had a total of 12 last year and have not surpassed 20 in a season since 2014.
12 - That’s the current win streak for the Bearcats in this rivalry. The last time Miami beat UC was in 2005. For context, the highest grossing movie at the box office that year was Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
11 - The Bearcats were actually down 17-6 to the RedHawks at one point in last year’s showdown. They came back to win, marking their biggest comeback since 2009. Last week, they overcame a 10-point deficit, so if things start poorly, just know its all going according to plan ... until it isn’t.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati - Coby Bryant, CB
We don’t know exactly who is going to be tasked with covering Gardner, but Bryant could very well be that guy. Even if he isn’t, the play by the secondary is going to be a key for this game.
Miami-Ohio - Tommy Doyle, OT
Doyle is a redshirt sophomore on the offensive line. He will need to keep the Bearcats’ newly aggressive pass rushers off of Ragland’s back, as will the entirety of the RedHawks’ offensive line.
Even though they’ve won 12-straight games against the RedHawks, that doesn’t mean the Bearcats can just pencil this in as a win. With Ragland and Gardner, Miami has a very strong passing offense that could expose some weaknesses in the suddenly dominant UC defense. However, if UC’s offense can find a bit more variety in its avenues for gaining yardage and the defense maintains the edge it had against UCLA, this Bearcat team is destined for much bigger things than just winning the Victory Bell again. Cincinnati 28 Miami-0hio 24