For the first time in 10 years, Cincinnati Bearcats defeated a ranked football team. Cincinnati defeated UCF on Friday by the final score of 27-24, to improve to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in conference play in 2019.
This game was, well for lack of a better word, weird.
UCF completely dominated the first quarter and much of the first half in terms of overall time of possession, yards, and really everything else. At one point, UCF had run 27 plays, to 5 for Cincinnati. The first two possessions were quite different - UCF ran a 12 play drive that ended in a field goal, followed by a 16 play drive that ended in a redzone interception. Bearcats ran 7 plays total and punted twice.
Those first two drives includes a dropped interception on the second play, penalty on third down, and a roughing the punter. Through the whole first half, it seemed like Cincinnati kept beating itself and time and time again missed crucial opportunities.
At one point in the first half, this was the stat differential...
UCF is trailing in this game.— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) October 5, 2019
How? Red zone (UCF 0 TD's in 4 trips) and 0-2 turnover difference. pic.twitter.com/WHvyakHnNl
It always felt like Cincinnati’s defense was playing with fire. Bend, don’t break is the motto. But you had to figure, with UCF’s high powered offense, Cincinnati would eventually break. Fans were left thinking that UCF was always 1-2 plays away from an 80 yard touchdown. But it never came. Cincinnati’s defense was absolutely phenomenal.
Bearcats defense gave up just two touchdowns all night, to a team who has scored 30 points for 31 consecutive games. The first touchdown came at the end of the first half, when UCF started at their own 12 yard line following a Desmond Ridder interception. The second touchdown came late in the fourth quarter, a 93 yard, 4 play, 50 second long drive to get within three points.
UCF had 8 offensive possessions in the second half. Those drives ended the following ways - punt, punt, pick six, punt, punt, interception, punt, touchdown. That’s not your typical UCF offense. But UCF has never seen a defense like the Bearcats.
As rough as it was to watch Cincinnati offensively, they made just enough plays, and made them at all the right times.
Desmond Ridder made a few mistakes, but also made some incredible throws and ran the ball when he needed to. He showed a ton of toughness, consistently getting hit and seemingly getting injured twice during the game. Ridder threw two touchdowns, and despite the struggles and the frustrations of fans, he simply got the job done. That’s all you can ask of a quarterback.
Star(s) of the Game
The entire defense! I can (and probably will) write an entire article on the specific stars - Cam Jefferies, Ahmad Gardner, Michael Pitts, Malik Vann, Bryan Wright, Coby Bryant, Darrick Forrest, Elijah Ponder. So many players, all of them actually, deserve so much credit. Defense forced 4 turnovers (3 interceptions, 1 fumble) and scored a touchdown. 3 sacks and a consistent barrage of pressure on freshman QB Dillon Gabriel.
Give credit to Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeeman. The story about whether or not he will be part of Cincinnati’s coaching staff next year (due to a head coach promotion) is for another day. For now, let’s be thankful Coach Freeman is on our side, because he did an incredible job with this week’s game plan. He had his players ready and they knew exactly what their assignments were and what was coming.
Also give credit to DB Coach Mike Mickens. If you watched closely, on UCF’s deep ball passes, you can see the corners consistently tracking the hands of the receivers. They weren’t watching their eyes, they weren’t playing the ball (often the route of most mistakes), they were playing the hands. Once the ball hit the hands of the receiver, the hands of the corner hit the receiver too.
Flat out, the entire defense was just ready to go and was absolutely awesome and put on a show.
The Real Stars of the Game
The defense was amazing and will get the credit they deserve for this win. But THAT CROWD! Those 40,000 fans. Those 7,000+ students. All hail that crowd. Cincinnati played with 12 players on defense for 60 minutes. Because the crowd played a serious impact on this game.
I talked all week on twitter about how UCF had never seen an environment like this. Some folks respected it. Some mocked it. I don’t think there’s any question now, that Nippert Stadium is one of the top atmospheres, not just in the AAC, but in college football period.
Plays of the Game
In the first quarter, UCF had a chance to go up 10-0. Their second drive, 16 plays, ended with this interception by Cam Jefferies.
HUGE play for the Cincinnati defense! Gabriel Davis slips, Cam Jefferies picks off Dillon Gabriel and returns it 57 yards! pic.twitter.com/Ru0rCTJFSO— #BusinessAintBoomin (@ftbeard_17) October 5, 2019
True freshman Ahmad Gardner had the night of his life. He had a key tackle on a third down in the first half and gave Cincinnati the lead with this pick six
Cincy D takes it all the way!— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) October 5, 2019
Ahmad Gardner picks off Dillon Gabriel and returns it all the way to the house to give the Bearcats the 20-16 lead.
On the final play of the third quarter, Michael Warren II, who was bottled up for much of the night, FINALLY broke free, rumbling for a 60 yard run, that set up a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Imagine trying to tackle a truck?
Michael Warren’s 60 yard rush resulted in a number of his would-be tacklers on the ground. pic.twitter.com/TE1vH7a3q8— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 5, 2019
UCF falls to 4-2, and with 2 losses, making the New Year’s Six Bowl (Cotton Bowl, most likely), will be a tough task this year. Of course, just to win the AAC, would require Cincinnati to lose twice.
Is Josh Heupel really the man to continue elevating UCF? Or was he benefiting from Scott Frost’s foundation? We will find out soon enough.
Here’s a look at the UCF streaks that were/will be snapped as a result of this loss
- 31 straight games with 30 or more points scored
- 18 straight AAC wins
- 33 straight weeks ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll
What’s Next for Cincinnati
First, everyone parties and celebrates this win all weekend! Then, next Saturday, Bearcats travel to Houston to face the Cougars at 3:30 on ESPN.
We’ll have plenty of coverage of that game throughout the week, right after we finish recapping the UCF win throughout the weekend.