As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Cincinnati Bearcats certainly weren’t broken last season, as they won 11 games and earned their first bowl victory since 2012. Although the defense was at the very center of that success, there is no denying that the Bearcats had a very distinct offensive strategy and one that paid dividends. Led by second-team All-American Athletic Conference running back Michael Warren, the Bearcats were one of the best rushing teams in the league. They ranked fourth in the AAC in yards on the ground (239.5 per game) and rushing attempts (600). According to Team Rankings, they were also a top 30 team nationally in rushing yards percentage and rushing play percentage.
Entering the 2019 season, the Bearcats have four proven running backs in Warren, Gerrid Doaks, Tavion Thomas and Charles McClelland. They also lost top pass-catcher Kahlil Lewis to graduation. All signs should point to a whole lot of running in the near and distant future. However, the Bearcats have made some recruiting additions in the last few weeks that might indicate a more pass-heavy attack — or at least a more balanced one — is on the way.
It started when wide receiver Garyn Prater decided to follow his brother to UC and transfer from Ohio State at the beginning of the month. Prater didn’t get much of a chance with the Buckeyes, making a single reception for 13 yards in his two years in Columbus. He joins prospects with wide receiver experience who already signed up to play for the Bearcats in Tre Tucker and Jaquan Sheppard. Both are three-star prospects who could contribute right away or at least are eligible to do so.
On Thursday the Bearcats added another wide receiver to their recruiting class in L’Christian “Blue” Smith and he just so happens to be a former Buckeye just like Prater.
Smith is a player with a ton of potential and a decorated history as a recruit. He was a four-star wideout when he was recruited and was considered one of the top 10 prospects in the state of Ohio. Add in placement on a number of top recruit lists from outlets like 247Sports, Rivals and ESPN and you’ve got the makings of a tremendous resume. Unfortunately, Smith did not play in a single game for the Buckeyes last season but he should get plenty of chances to contribute for the Bearcats in the near future.
Obviously Smith’s addition to the receiving corps is a major improvement but what could it mean for the offense as a whole? Desmond Ridder is about to enter his second season as the starter and he should hold onto that role for the foreseeable future, meaning he will have a chance to make plays with Smith, Prater and all of the new wide receivers that Luke Fickell and his staff have added and will add in the future. After Ridder, the Bearcats presumably have their next quarterback of the future and with such assumed certainty under center, especially in the next few years, the Bearcats could try to air things out a bit more.
In just his first season as a starter, Ridder averaged 8.4 adjusted yards per attempt, completed 62.4 percent of his passes and had 20 touchdowns compared with only five interceptions. In the next few years, he could take another serious jump and if he does, the Bearcats are putting the pieces in place for him to let it fly. That’s not to say that they will abandon the run and become the next Washington State, but if this infusion of talent into the passing game leads to more success through the air, it will also open up things for the run and make the Bearcats even more dynamic offensively.