After suffering their first conference loss of the season, Cincinnati Bearcats will run it back and return to Memphis on Saturday, this time with the AAC Championship on the line.
Bearcats’ 34-24 loss was disappointing, but there is still a lot to play for on Saturday.
Last week, I wrote several reasons why I felt Cincinnati would win. That article proved not to be a lie. While Cincinnati did not win, the keys to success were proven true and they need to be executed much better on Saturday.
Why did Cincinnati lose on Friday?
These three reasons were all listed as keys to success for Cincinnati last week. They lost, because these keys were not followed.
Protect the Ball
I talked about how Cincinnati needed to control the pace of the game and avoid turnovers. Memphis is way too good of a team in all phases to give them extra possessions and extra opportunities. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. QB Ben Bryant threw 2 interceptions and lost 1 fumble, while making his first career start in place of an injured Desmond Ridder.
Clean up the penalties
I’ve said this 100 times now, they are who they are - a very undisciplined team. And these penalties are going to keep occurring. But they simply cannot happen when they do. With 5 minutes to go and Cincinnati down just 3 points, the Bearcats defense got a big stop on third down. But Myjai Sanders was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty after the play, giving Memphis a new set of downs and ultimately enough life to go down and score a touchdown that put this game away for good.
Special teams were not special
Is there a worse way to start a game than by allowing an opening kick return for a touchdown? There really can’t be a worse way. That’s exactly what happened as Cincinnati kicked off first and Memphis took the kick 97 yards to take a 7-0 lead 12 seconds into the game, without either offense even stepping on the field
Keys to Victory on Saturday
Running the ball
Last week, Michael Warren II eclipsed the 1000 yard mark for the season, by running for 122 yards on 21 carries. Gerrid Doaks also contributed 32 yards rushing. Especially with a new, inexperienced QB in the game, Cincinnati leaned heavily on the run. Almost too heavily.
While establishing dominance in the run game is a key to success, not telegraphing every single run play would be helpful. Cincinnati ran the ball on almost every first down. And on a crucial 4th down in the fourth quarter, ran the ball out of shotgun. The offense has become very predictable, but yet the run game has had continued success.
Limit the big plays
Memphis gained 432 yards in last week’s win. It honestly felt like more. It should have been more.
During their recent five game win streak, here is a look at Memphis’ total net yards of offense totals.
- 560 yards vs USF
- 531 yards vs Houston
- 553 yards vs SMU
- 498 yards vs Tulsa
- 470 yards vs Tulane
When you consider that, 432 yards is actually a success! It’s actually the third fewest yards by Memphis in 12 games (301 yards vs Navy, 364 yards vs Ole Miss).
Giving up yards is fine, but it’s that bend don’t break mentality. As long as the defense can contain this offense, the Bearcats can hang around.
Ben Bryant was awesome on Friday. Despite the turnovers, the offense was able to move the ball and he made some really nice passes. I do not believe coach Fickell would jeopardize the championship opportunity by re-inserting Ridder if he wasn’t 100% confident he could outperform Bryant.
And I trust Fickell. So I am going with that theory. That is why Ridder is one of my keys to success. Ridder’s strength is his legs and his ability to move the pocket and move the chains. But if his injured shoulder is 100% (it should be if he is playing) then he should be able to move the chains with his arm to. Ridder has shown he is capable of making big throws. Who knows how much his injury has been affecting him.