As we inch closer and closer to the long awaited 2022 season for the Cincinnati Bearcats, I have been looking back at the past season openers for Luke Fickell during his time in Cincinnati. Let’s dive into the season openers of the 2020’s and see how each result showed a glimpse of what the rest of the season looked like.
9/19/20 55-20 Win vs. Austin Peay
Repeat season opener opponents seem to be the theme for Fickell’s scheduling. Three years after beating Austin Peay by 12, the Bearcats got to showcase their skills once again against the inferior FCS Governors, but this time the game was not so close.
Desmond Ridder had a solid game as he went 13/19 for 196 passing yards and lead the team with 57 rushing yards. Gerrid Doaks was the real star of the show, however, as he only rushed for 20 yards, but added 64 receiving yards and four total touchdowns. No wide receiver had more than 2 catches on the day, but it was clear the Bearcats didn’t need too much style to take down Austin Peay.
After going up 48-6 in the 4th quarter, the Bearcats subbed in their 2nd and 3rd string offenses and defenses, which allowed the Governors to score two meaningless touchdowns late in a game that the Blackcat defense completely dominated. The defense only had one sack, but tallied nine tackles for loss and four pass deflections. Another interesting note from this game was that Sauce Gardner lead the team in tackles with eight, and his actual name in the box score was changed from Ahmad to Sauce, which I thought was pretty cool.
In a season filled with scheduling conflicts due to Covid-19, the Bearcats took full advantage of their talent, no matter who they had to play as they cruised their way to an AAC championship and a Peach Bowl berth where they’d end up losing on a last second field goal to Georgia.
9/4/21 49-14 Win vs. Miami (OH)
The Battle for the Victory Bell in front of a max capacity home crowd for the first time in two years? Count me in. With all the excitement to have college football fully back, the Bearcats did not disappoint as they crushed the Miami Redhawks.
On the 2nd play of the game, Desmond Ridder completed an 81 yard touchdown to Tyler Scott, and there was no turning back for the Bearcats. Ridder finished 20/25 with 295 passing yards, 31 rushing yards, and five touchdowns (by far his best performance in a season opener). Jerome Ford ran for 121 yards and scored a touchdown while 11 players caught a pass in the game. The offense was clicking on all cylinders, and even Evan Prater scored an acrobatic touchdown at the end of the game.
The defense didn’t create any turnovers, but they didn’t really need to as they had five pass deflections and six QB hurries on the day. Jabari Taylor had a solid day holding down the defensive line as he had one sack and two TFL. It was also the debut of freshman punter Mason Fletcher, who only had to punt two times, but averaged only 40.5 yards per punt.
The Bearcats would stay perfect the rest of the regular season, including wins at Notre Dame and against Houston, to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Cincinnati would end up losing that game, but it was a historic season for the Bearcat football program.
Luke Fickell is 5-0 in season openers. This year might be his hardest test yet as Cincinnati heads down to Arkansas for a prime time game on Saturday. If the Bearcats can sneak out victorious, another great year could be in store for Cincinnati.