Cincinnati Bearcats are now 6-1 and 3-0 in AAC play after a 24-13 win over Tulsa at Nippert Stadium. 6 wins means the Bearcats are now bowl eligible for the second straight season and second time in three years under coach Luke Fickell (this follows a two year drought from 2016-2017).
Saturday’s win was not pretty. It was not easy. But a win is a win.
Offense - Yawn
The Bearcats did produce 317 yards of total offense, but it was an ugly 317 yards and the offense was mostly unimaginative and predictable. These are not new issues. The criticism of Offensive Coordinator Mike Denbrock’s play-calling has been a recurring issue throughout the year. The plan for this team was always to be a run-oriented offense. But how much is too much? On Saturday, they ran 41 times and threw the ball 22 times. This type of ratio is acceptable, unless the majority of those 41 runs are predictable up-the-middle runs, QB keepers, or third down runs. What’s frustrating is that a few times again, QB Desmond Ridder shows his arm strength and accuracy taking shots down the field. That didn’t happen much here. What also didn’t exist, was a passing game over the middle of the field. Everything seems to be short or to the sidelines.
Ridder completed just 12 of 22 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. I know fans are anxious to see better QB play, and some have even called for a benching and to see what backup Ben Bryant can do. The truth is, Ridder is the best man for the job. He gives Cincinnati the best chance to win games. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be playing. He is playing behind a weak offensive line and being saddled with bad play calls. It doesn’t matter who the QB is - Ridder, Bryant, 2020 recruit Evan Prater, Gino Guidugli from the early 2000s - because the issues of play calling and offensive line aren’t going away any time soon. Denbrock must be a better job of hiding his team’s deficiencies and maximizing the strengths.
On the other end, how about the defense? For the second straight game, the Bearcats defense forced 5 turnovers. There were three fumble recoveries (Bryan Wright, Marcus Brown, Ja’Von Hicks) and two interceptions (Darrick Forrest, Ja’Von Hicks). They gave up 377 yards. The defense continues to allow big plays and lots of yards each game, bending, but never breaking as Tulsa managed just 13 points and 1 touchdown for the game.
Here is a look at Tulsa’s drive summary.
- Field Goal
- Field Goal
You would think, with a drive chart that looks like this, that the Bearcats won by a lot more than 11 points.
Hello, Gerrid Doaks!
In 2017, Doaks led the Bearcats in rushing yards (513 yards, which is the Cincinnati area code). He missed the entire 2018 season due to injury and following the breakout of Michael Warren II, there were obvious questions about what his role on the team would be moving forward. With Charles McClelland out for the year (injury) and Tavion Thomas off the depth chart entering week 1, Doaks was the obvious #2 back behind Warren. He received 10 carries vs UCLA, but lost a fumble in the first half and sustained another injury. That injury kept him out of two games (Ohio State, Miami). In the three games that followed his injury (Marshall, UCF, Houston), Doaks received a combined 14 carries for 70 yards.
And then Saturday happened. With Warren banged up and ultimately leaving the game with an injury, Doaks took full advantage of the opportunity for more carries. Doaks scored his first touchdown of the year on the Bearcats’ season possession, which gave them a 10-0 lead. On the second possession of the second half, on 3rd and 12 Doaks had a 28 yard touchdown on a pass from Ridder.
And with the score 17-13, and the game still well within reach for Tulsa, Darrick Forrest picked off Tulsa QB Zach Smith and on the Bearcats first play, Doaks ran for a 27 yard touchdown.
Despite leading the team in rushing in 2017, he only ran for 2 touchdowns. The 2 rushing TDs and 1 receiving TDs both tied his career-highs from 2017.
Hopefully Warren is able to recover and bounce back from injury quickly, but it’s great to see Doaks have this kind of success and hopefully build his confidence and help take some of the burden off of Warren.
Special Teams Notes
For the third time in 2019, kicker Sam Crosa has a field goal attempt blocked. This issue must get fixed, because three blocked field goals is completely unacceptable.
On the other hand, Cole Smith, who kicked field goals last year and lost the job to Crosa, is apparently still on the roster as a long kick kicker. Didn’t know Cincinnati had one of those. Anyways, he hit a 50 yard field goal on the Bearcats opening drive. Who knows, maybe he can hit 30 yarders too without getting them blocked? It was the Bearcats first 50 yard field goal since Andrew Gantz hit one on 10/1/2015 against Miami.
Punter James Smith continued his Ray Guy award pace, punting 4 times, averaging 49 yards per punt, including a beautiful 57 yarder that landed inside the 2 yard line.
Hall of Fame
The 2009 Bearcats, that finished the regular season 12-0, are officially Hall of Famers. It was a perfect ceremony and the school did a great job of assembling everyone from that team, including former head coach Brian Kelly. There were some boos for Kelly, but mostly cheers. In 2021, Cincinnati travels to South Bend to face Notre Dame.
The 2009 Cincinnati Bearcats.— Cincinnati Bearcats (@GoBEARCATS) October 19, 2019
Your newest Hall of Famers. pic.twitter.com/39HPMDtYJH
Cincinnati is off next week, before a trip to Greenville to face East Carolina Saturday November 2. The last time Cincinnati had an off week, they followed it up with a 52-14 road victory.
Following ECU, Cincinnati hosts UConn on 11/9 and travels to USF on 11/16. Then the fun begins with Temple at Nippert Stadium and Memphis on the road the Friday after Thanksgiving. Those final two games will go a long way to determining the Bearcats’ fate in the AAC Championship race and potential Cotton Bowl appearance.