Football starts in the trenches. When Luke Fickell took over the head coaching job for the Cincinnati Bearcats, he said he wanted to create an offense that will “run the ball and create mismatches.” This offseason, Fickell brought in new offensive line coach Mike Cummings to work on the development of the OL that had plateaued during the 2021 season. The defensive line was very solid last season, but this year’s unit looks different compared to 2021. The trenches for the Bearcats were solid all year last season, but in the Cotton Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide, fans could see just how outmatched Cincinnati was.
On the first possession of the game, Alabama drove the ball down Cincinnati’s throat. The Crimson Tide rushed for over 300 yards that game, which was uncharacteristic of the Bearcats to give up that many yards on the ground. During the AAC Championship, the Houston Cougars were limited to only 86 rushing yards, but the talent difference between the SEC and American was shown during the CFP Semifinal.
Last year’s offensive line for Alabama was viewed as uncharacteristically shaky for the Crimson Tide as they only had two returning starters, so going up against an experienced Arkansas Razorbacks team upfront in the Bearcats’ season opener is going to be a challenge for the defensive line. The Bearcats’ starters for this season are going to be familiar to Cincinnati fans as Malik Vann and Jabari Taylor hold down the edges and Jowon Briggs shifts over to the NT position after playing defensive end last year. Unlike last year, this year’s team doesn’t have a true speed rusher, so the Bearcats are going to have to rely on their strength to get pressure on KJ Jefferson.
The Bearcats were also exposed on the offensive line during the Cotton Bowl as Desmond Ridder was sacked six times and Alabama had eight tackles for losses. The Bearcats don’t lose anyone from last year’s offensive line, but it seems like some new faces are going to get a shot at starting in the season opener in Mike Cummings’ first season with Cincinnati.
Redshirt sophomore Joe Huber looks like he’ll be taking over the starting RT spot while Dylan O’Quinn shifts down to RG. Reports from camp have also indicated that fellow redshirt sophomore Gavin Gerhardt has outperformed veteran Jeremy Cooper for the LG spot. This offensive line better be ready for a hostile environment in game one, especially if some of the younger guys are going to get their chance to shine.
The Crimson Tide also had 6 pass deflections against the Bearcats, most of them coming at the line of scrimmage. The SEC just recruits differently compared to the rest of college football, so the Bearcats’ front line must get used to not only sticking with their man but driving them into the ground if they try to put a hand in the air. The length Alabama had upfront defensively disrupted Ridder’s short passing game, so this offensive line must do a better job at sticking with their man against Arkansas if they want to help Bryant or Prater stay comfortable in Fayetteville.
The Bearcats loss to Alabama last year started in the trenches. This season, they’ll get the opportunity to right the ship in the first game. The talent level of Arkansas isn't on the same scale as Alabama, but Cincinnati must establish an offensive line that can protect its quarterback and a defensive line that can get pressure on a dual-threat signal caller.