Upward & Onward
All worries about how the Bearcats are trending were absolved Saturday at Nippert Stadium. Those spooked about a heart-wrenching offensive drought against Temple or a near choke against SMU saw the Bearcats stymie an offensive attack that destroyed them a year ago.
Fans looking for a way to be worried will have to go back to the drawing board, because the Bearcats came back to Nippert Saturday and left with an 8-1 record, boasting a win total that matches the last two seasons combined. Fickell took an 8-16 team and has them at another eight wins in just nine tries.
It’s starting to feel like Bohn’s hire, not even two years old, is reaching escape velocity ahead of schedule.
Just over two months ago, the pessimists said five wins, the realists said six wins, the optimists said seven wins, and the delusionists shouted for eight. Luke Fickell, Desmond Ridder, Mike Warren, and Cincinnati’s potent defense are making them all look foolish. In the words of Mo Egger, now “a 10-win season isn’t merely a possibility, it’s an expectation.”
Crazy times in Clifton.
Defense & Discipline
This defense has rightfully earned a good reputation among the UC fan base. Aside from an uncharacteristically porous opening half against the Ohio Bobcats (who are mashing teams, by the way) Marcus Freeman’s side of the ball has been the driving force behind this team’s stunning record.
Yet, Saturday felt like the first time the defense found itself at center stage when the final horn blared. Yes, Mike Warren ran for two more touchdowns. Yes, Desmond Ridder added two more scores. Yes, Charles McClelland casually added a touchdown and 14.2 yards per carry. Hell, even Hayden Moore seized his window of opportunity and threw a touchdown pass in limited action.
But anyone who watched Saturday’s tilt at Nippert knows it was a defensive exhibition. After all, the Midshipmen gorged themselves on 569 rushing yards in last year’s edition of this game. This year? Just 124—a stunning reversal that truly seemed impossible a year ago.
Defensive tackle Cortez Broughton walked into the press conference and told us Navy’s triple-option offense meant he didn’t expect to be at the center of this week’s defensive effort. Instead, he finished with a team-high 10 tackles, leading a front seven that amassed five sacks on a quarterback that attempted just four passes. (They also hung five sacks on UCLA to open the season, meaning this year’s defense has a pair of five-sack games for the first time since 2013.)
Luke Fickell cited “discipline” as the reason this defense was able to slam the door on Navy yesterday. It sounds like coach speak, and it probably is, because discipline is really the obvious answer there. But discipline is what the Bearcats lacked in last year’s meeting.
Freeman has instilled it well, and he’ll be getting job interviews this winter because of it.
Desmond Ridder’s struggles on the road started to rattle the fringes of the fan base the past two weeks, but he was back to his old self on Saturday, passing efficiently (13-for-17), scoring points (through the air and on the ground), and cutting out the dumb mistakes. Getting him back into a groove is important ahead of two games that will demand his excellence.
It was also cool seeing Hayden Moore step in and keep the train moving with a touchdown pass before the half.
The running backs continue to exhibit the kind of depth that demands them being lumped together in these roundups. Mike Warren, Charles McClelland, and Tavion Thomas combined for three touchdowns and 197 yards on 32 carries, good for 6.2 yards a pop.
Rashad Medaris lead the way for the receivers with four catches for 82 yards and a gorgeous 55-yard touchdown catch from Ridder.
Defensive honors to Cortez Broughton (10 tackles), Kimoni Fitz (1.5 sacks), Jarell White and Joel Dublanko (8 tackles). But again, there wasn’t a weak link in that unit. I could list 15 guys here. Look at these numbers.
The Bearcats lost linebacker Perry Young to an ACL tear. While there are reliable guys in waiting (namely Jarell White), it’s a horrible turn for Young. The Bearcats will miss him on the field, and it’s a shame he won’t get to participate directly in the program’s resurgent season any further.
The Bearcats are back into the AP Poll at #25 and the Coaches Poll at #23. The one that matters, the College Football Playoff rankings, debuts on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ESPN. The ‘Cats have never been ranked in that poll. I don’t expect that to change this week given how the CFP committee has treated AAC teams this year. But Saturday’s showing should at least have them within shouting distance, and a win this weekend ought to put them over the edge.
The fans are (fully) back. Saturday’s attendance of better than 36,000 looked, felt, and sounded like a sellout. I’ve divorced myself from worrying about attendance numbers, because they did nothing but give me heartburn for years. But this team deserves packed stands. On Saturday they’ll likely even need them. The difference between 30k and 36k is remarkable to me, so hopefully fans can duplicate that performance, even just one more time this season.
Man, 8-1! I still can’t believe that. Saturday might be magical. See you at Nippert.