It’s difficult to get a full read on the Cincinnati Bearcats based on the first two weeks of the season. An already small sample is made even less reliable by the 42-0 loss they suffered against Ohio State, which dilutes the positive and amplifies the negative of just a couple games.
The good news is the Bearcats are now tasked with dealing with an opponent with whom they are very familiar and very successful against, with the Miami-Ohio RedHawks visiting Nippert Stadium on Saturday. The Bearcats have 13-straight wins against their rivals in the Battle for the Victory Bell, so they have a good sense of what it takes to beat the RedHawks, but here are some things they should emphasize.
Get the run game going
The Bearcats were a devastatingly efficient rushing team in 2018. They relied heavily on this part of the offense and it led to great results. With a backfield that featured four potential No. 1 running backs entering this season, the expectation is that they would continue to excel on the ground. Unfortunately, the ground game has not been as consistently excellent as expected. Injuries have certainly depleted some of the team’s depth, but it has been rather frustrating watching this team average just 3.4 yards per carry all the same. It’s not just the Ohio State game souring that number either. Against UCLA, the Bearcats averaged only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt.
While everyone in the backfield needs to produce, Michael Warren is clearly the player who most needs to step up. He had 92 yards against UCLA but averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Things were much worse against the Buckeyes, but Warren can still turn things around. He averaged 5.45 yards per carry in 2018 and with Gerrid Doaks’ status in question, Warren needs to return to that type of efficiency this weekend.
Capitalize in the red zone
If the Bearcats can get longer runs out of the backfield, it should only help to address what has been perhaps their greatest weakness on offense this season. The Bearcats were held scoreless against Ohio State but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have chances to put points on the board. With three red zone trips, there was still an opportunity to eat into Ohio State’s lead, even if three scores wouldn’t have made a major difference in the final outcome. Unfortunately, the Bearcats fell short each time they got in the red zone and after scoring on only half of such chances against UCLA, there needs to be more urgency in these point-scoring situations. They have a good shot at finding more success this week, as Miami has allowed a score on eight of nine red zone chances through the first two weeks.
Speaking of the RedHawks, the Bearcats may be able to win this game by just by letting Miami get in its own way. The RedHawks have committed 20 penalties this season, which is tied for the fifth-highest total in the country. Unfortunately, the Bearcats are right there with them, with 20 penalties of their own. Blaming referees is a common refrain from fans but at some point, the responsibility has to fall on the teams themselves. If the Bearcats can pick up fewer flags, they have a real shot at gaining a massive advantage, especially at home.
Have a healthy Desmond Ridder
According to Football-Reference, Ridder is probable for this weekend so don’t get too worried. However, the Bearcats need Ridder to be 100 percent to recover from last weekend’s lost and regain the flood of optimism this program had before the season began. Conventional wisdom says that Warren is the key to the offense, but Ridder can unlock even more for this team, both through the air and on the ground. He has clearly formed a great connection with tight end Josiah Deguara (seven receptions, 99 yards, one touchdown) and wide receiver Alec Pierce (six receptions, 152 yards) to start the year, but that could all disintegrate if he’s not healthy or unable to bounce back.
Solve Miami-Ohio’s pass protection
The defense struggled just about as much as the offense last week. It was a disappointing sight for a unit that was the backbone for last year’s team. However, the Bearcats dominated the week before against the Bruins so there’s no reason to panic.
Miami doesn’t have the most explosive offense, but they have done a good job in pass protection, allowing just one sack in two games. For the Bearcats to ensure that they can keep the lid on Miami’s offense, especially with health in the secondary a real issue, the Bearcats need to break through for some sacks and tackles for loss. They certainly have the personnel to do so. Michael Pitts and Bryan Wright are both solid pass rushers who each have a sack this season. In addition, Ethan Tucky has two tackles for loss and even if he hasn’t broken through to tackle the quarterback, its only a matter of time until he does. I would expect the Bearcats to be aggressive on defense and get after the quarterback early and often. If they do that, and check off the other items on the to-do list above, they should have no problem making it 14-straight Victory Bell wins.