It was a great night at Nippert Stadium on Thursday as the Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the UCLA Bruins 24-14. The game was not pretty and far from perfect, but the Bearcats found a way to get the job done.
The game started out rough for Cincinnati. After Desmond Ridder and the offense went three-and-out, UCLA marched down the field and got inside the 10 yard line before a fumble. On that drive, UCLA did a lot of motion, a lot of movement at the line of scrimmage and Cincinnati seemed very unsure of what to do. But after that, managed to settle down and read the plays.
Once the defense settled down, the game never felt uncomfortable. Bruins totaled 218 yards and 114 yards came on two plays. One, was a 75 yard catch-and-run touchdown, that was the result of a blown assignment by Cincinnati safety Ja’Von Hicks, who was starting in place of the injured James Wiggins. The other was a 39 yard reception by Jaylen Erwin, which eventually set up the Bruins second TD. Cincinnati’s defense had them in a third and 10 situation, but a penalty by Hicks allowed the drive to continue.
Hicks had a very up-and-down game in his first career start and first collegiate action. He was a big part of both UCLA touchdowns. But he also recovered a fumble on UCLA’s opening drive and had a late interception. Mistakes happen, especially for a sophomore playing for the first time, and Hicks showed great resiliency in playing through the mistakes and making some key plays.
Desmond Ridder looked very comfortable on offense. He completed 18-26 passes, that were mostly short routes, with the exception of a 52 yard bomb to Alec Pierce in the first quarter, for Pierce’s first career catch. No other pass was for more than 21 yards.
It took a while for the running game to get going. UCLA’s defense was well prepared for the Cincinnati running backs and Ridder’s keepers. Ridder managed to run for 34 yards, and though he did have one 15 yard run, was mostly bottled up. It was a constant grind all game for RB Michael Warren, getting 92 yards on 26 carries. Not his best in terms of yards per carry, but he got the yards when he needed them the most.
The whole team got the job done when it was needed the most, despite a number of mistakes and miscues. Overall, Cincinnati committed 10 penalties in a very sloppy game, committed a pair of turnovers, and had several miscues throughout the game.
The biggest miscue for Cincinnati was their failure to score. They went into halftime with 10 points despite the fact that on 6 out of 7 possessions, the Bearcats crossed midfield into UCLA territory. Mistakes and miscues were a constant theme on Thursday and you have to hope they were the result of first game jitters and inexperience for some players, and not a future trend, especially with a tough slate of games coming up.
History against UCLA
Since December 2017, Cincinnati has now swept a home-and-home in basketball and football. Kudos to Cincinnati AD Mike Bohn for getting this series scheduled in both sports. Obviously, UCLA is a major brand, especially in basketball, but also a respectable big name in football. For Cincinnati to come away 4-0 proves that they can battle with the big boys.
It was the 6th time a Power 5 school played at Nippert Stadium since the Bearcats joined the Big East in 2005 and Cincinnati is 6-0 in those games.
It’s possible these teams meet in basketball one day in the NCAA Tournament, but it definitely won’t be after the first weekend.
Players of the Game
RB Michael Warren - Last year, Warren broke onto the scene with 166 total yards and 3 TDs in the opening win vs UCLA. This year, he started out slow as the Bruins often anticipated the run and their front seven played well, for the most part. Warren still managed to grind for 92 yards on 26 carries. He scored both Cincinnati touchdowns in the second half with an 11 yard run in the third and a 21 yard catch late in the fourth to clinch the win.
TE Josiah Deguara - Cincinnati ran the same play over and over in 2018 and did it again a couple of times last night. Ridder rolls out to the left and throws a little dump off to Deguara, who always seems to have space in front of him. It worked in the first quarter when Deguara scored from 16 yards away for the first points of the season. The tight end finished with a game-high (for both teams) 4 catches.
He also had a huge touchdown-saving tackle. After Ridder threw a goal line interception in the final minute of the first half, Deguara ran about 60 yards to track down the defender and tackle him across mid field. If not for that, it likely would have been 14-10 UCLA at the half, instead of 10-3.
LB Perry Young - Young finished second on the team in 2017 with 101 tackles and was on pace to exceed 100 in 2018, before a torn ACL ended his season early. Young returned to the lineup with 3 tackles and his first career interception.
DE Michael Pitts - Sporting a new number (#9) Pitts was constantly in UCLA’s backfield. He had 2 tackles for a loss, a sack and simply made Thompson-Robinson uncomfortable all night.
Game Changing Plays
End of the first half
In the final 1:17 of the first half there were 3 punts, a nearly catastrophic interception, and a whole lot of sloppy penalties that cost UCLA points.
UCLA punted with 1:17 to go, giving Cincinnati a chance to make something happen before the end of the half. Bearcats got nothing and punted the ball back 30 seconds later. On UCLA’s possession, they went backwards thanks to some outstanding tackles by Perry Young and Cam Jeffries. Ryan Montgomery returned the UCLA punt 25 yards to their 20 yard line.
This is where it gets crazy. Desmond Ridder threw an interception at the goal line with 11 seconds remaining. UCLA CB Jay Shaw looked like he had a chance to run it back 99 yards and give UCLA an incredible lead at the half, but he was caught by Cincy TE Josiah Deguara at the 35 yard line. After getting tackled, Shaw was flagged for unsportsmanlike penalty that set UCLA back to midfield. They ran one play, Thompson-Robinson was sacked and an OL committed another unsportsmanlike penalty and the half ended at 10-7.
With 3 minutes to go and Cincinnati on their own 40, Michael Warren appeared to fumble the ball. UCLA picked up and ran it back 60 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown. But one referee ruled Warren down and they would review the play. To me, it looked like the ball came out before he was down, but the refs ruled inconclusive evidence and the play stood with Warren being down before the ball came out. A UCLA TD, would have cut the lead to 24-21. Instead, Bruins got the ball back and fumbled away their last opportunity.
I thought Chip Kelly was a good hire for UCLA after the 2017 season and thought he would bring UCLA back to, not just respectability, but competing for the PAC-12 South title routinely. And maybe he will. But this team is extremely undisciplined as two unsportsmanlike penalties cost them a chance at points at the end of the first half. And his QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson was absolutely awful. That is my biggest takeaway of this game for UCLA, is the play of the QB who completed just 8 passes in 26 attempts and turned the ball over four times (2 INT, 2 fumbles).
Demetric Felton was the star of the game. Of UCLA’s 218 total yards, Felton, alone, responsible for 162 of them (71 yards rushing, 91 yards receiving). RB Joshua Kelley, who ran for over 1200 yards and 12 TD last season, never saw the field, despite being in uniform and having warmed up before the game.
What’s next for Cincinnati
Bearcats travel to Columbus to face the alma mater of coach Luke Fickell on ABC at noon Saturday September 7th. This will be a major test for Cincinnati, to see how they measure up against one of the nation’s best teams.
They certainly have a lot of work to do in the 9 days before the game, but it must be a good feeling that they are battle-tested, having faced a real PAC-12 team (as opposed to an FCS or low level Group of Five conference school).