Cincinnati Bearcats are 1-0 after an opening night victory at home against UCLA, knocking off the Bruins for the second straight year by a score of 24-14. The game was not pretty for the Bearcats who made a ton of mistakes, but that’s the sign of a good team - one that can overcome the adversity of beating themselves to win convincingly.
Here are four takeaways from the victory and for more on Thursday’s win, you can read our full recap of the game.
Defense is still good
Cincinnati’s defense was ranked in the top 15 in most categories last season. Some figured a drop off was in order following the losses of DL Cortez Broughton and Marquise Copeland and even more so with the recent news of James Wiggins’ injury. But there was not much of a drop off against UCLA and the defense managed to make the big plays when needed.
UCLA had just 218 yards of total offense and more than half of those yards came on two plays - RB Demetric Felton had a 75 yard touchdown run in the second quarter and WR Jaylen Erwin opened up a drive in the third quarter with a 39 yard catch, that ultimately led to a touchdown.
UCLA’s opening drive on offense saw them use a lot of different formations and pre-snap movements at the line of scrimmage. Cincinnati seemed completely overwhelmed and overmatched and got bailed out by a turnover. However, after that, the defense completely settled in and locked down, reading the coverages and pre-snap movements. Excellent adjustments by Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman and staff.
Ja’Von Hicks is a work in progress
Hicks started in place of the injured Wiggins and had a wild game in his first significant collegiate playing time. He was responsible for both UCLA TDs mentioned above - he missed a tackle on the Felton 75 yard run and committed a facemask penalty on a crucial third down stop, that gave UCLA new life and ultimately allowed them to score their second touchdown.
But Hicks also recovered a fumble early in the first quarter and picked off UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the second half, just minutes after that aforementioned facemask penalty. Hicks definitely struggled and had some rough moments, but he managed to overcome his mistakes and bounce back. The interception was a off a terrible throw, but it speaks to his resilience, that he was able to mentally re-focus and get in position to make a big play.
Hopefully Hicks learns from the mistakes of his first start and continues to improve throughout the year. He is only a sophomore and he only found out roughly two days before the game that his role would significantly increase, in place of the defense’s top star. Well done, Hicks!
I hope Hicks has success, but I have another idea for how to fill the void left by Wiggins.
Offensive play-calling leaves a lot to be desired
The play calling seemed rather vanilla and conservative all night. The announcers kept alluding to the coaching staff saying that they want to take 1-2 shots a quarter. That is not sustainable, they need to take big shots when the opportunity presents itself, not when the script says to.
There was one particular sequence in the second quarter. On second and seven, Ridder pitched the ball to Doaks for an outside run and he was chewed up immediately. Doaks isn’t exactly a “pitch it” kind of running back and should have gone in between the tackles, which is what they oddly did on third down. After a small gain it set them up for a 31 yard field goal, which was missed.
They were trying too hard to force the run, when they could have allowed Desmond Ridder to make more plays through the air.
Too many mistakes
Mistakes can be defined in many ways. So let’s define them in three ways.
Missed opportunities - in the first half, the Bearcats had 7 total offensive possession and 6 of those saw Cincinnati taking snaps in UCLA territory. However, they went into halftime with just 10 points. That is simply unacceptable. There were two turnovers and a missed field goal. In the coming weeks Cincinnati has road games against Ohio State and Houston and a home game with UCF and cannot afford to miss opportunities like they did on Thursday.
Turnovers - As noted above, two of those above possessions ended in turnovers. In the middle of the second quarter, Doaks had his best run of the game, going for 10 yards to the UCLA 37 yard line, but the ball was knocked out.
And at the end of the first half, with under one minute to go, Ridder threw a brutal interception at the goal line. Fortunately, for Cincinnati, TE Josiah Deguara made a game-saving tackle to prevent a 99 yard pick six.
Penalties - Cincinnati committed 10 total penalties, and it felt like more. At least, it felt like all 10 came at inopportune times. They committed six false starts, which is not ideal when playing at home. Two of those false starts came on third and ones situations, pushing them back five yards.