Two Cents & Sense: Thoughts on Cincinnati vs Miami

 (photo by Matt Allaire | OhVarsity!)

(photo by Matt Allaire | OhVarsity!)

History Restored

Cincinnati and Miami played the first college football game in Ohio's history on December 8, 1888. The two teams met in Oxford to slug it out in front of Old Main. The Miami team averaged 140 pounds, according to Miami records, and even featured some MU faculty. Though touchdowns were worth four points and field goals were worth five, the teams didn't manage to score. The contest ended 0-0, stained by horrible freezing rain.

130 years later the two teams would meet again. This time the game shifted to Cincinnati. Old Main, demolished 60 years ago, was replaced by the lights of the Queen City and the contest took hold in a stadium named for one of the NFL's forefathers, born some twenty years after that first meeting in Oxford.

The rain came back though. It may not have been freezing, but it was chilly. And while Miami was content to match their 1888 offensive output, the Bearcats awoke late in the monsoon and managed three touchdowns—now worth six points.

 

 

Back In Control

The Victory Bell is back in Clifton for the 13th consecutive year, having just enjoyed its annual vacation from the trophy case in the center of the Lindner Center, a trip its taken for one Saturday each fall since 2005 before happily returning home.

Saturday's game, for how sloppy and messy and ugly it was, actually featured Cincinnati's most outright dominant performance in the game since the 52-14 thrashing in 2012.

The 2013 game was another offensive stalemate, as the Bearcats and Brendon Kay squeaked out two scores to win the game 14-0. The 2014 game was also at Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bearcats were playing their home games that season. Gunner Kiel and Cincinnati struggled to get separation before a third quarter Johnny Holton touchdown evidently gave the UC defense enough to work with, as they locked down the RedHawks for a 31-24 final. The 2015 game returned to Oxford and an Andrew Gantz field goal showcase became a real debacle when Kiel was knocked out of the game on a late hit. Freshman Hayden Moore had his debut, nearly killed us all with a flurry of turnovers, and then engineered a comeback, scoring the game's winning touchdown himself in the final minutes.

The 2016 game was a snoozer. The teams traded scores for three quarters at Nippert before a Josh Pasley field goal and a Tion Green touchdown sealed it in the fourth. The 2017 game was the defining moment of the season for the Bearcats. Cincinnati fell behind 17-6 with 4:45 remaining, and it looked like the 'Cats were content to keel over and hand the Bell back to Miami. Hayden Moore awoke with one of the best drives of his career, finding Kahlil Lewis for a touchdown before again connecting with him on a two-point conversion. As is tradition, the Cincinnati defense took over and Malik Clements reeled in a miraculous interception, returned it for a touchdown, and stole victory in Oxford.

I recap all this to illustrate the fact that Saturday's 21-0 less-than-convincing victory is actually Cincinnati's best performance in the rivalry in six years, and this is not the worst Miami team in six years. To do so with a freshman quarterback in a monsoon is something to be proud of, even if the numbers or optics don't necessarily have you thinking nine wins.

 

 

Still Searching

Because of how unexpected the UCLA victory was, I came into this game desperate for a second data point. The Bruins are under new leadership, facing a rebuild, and suffered from a handful of suspensions. Anything can happen in one game. Before I made any definitive assumptions about how good this year's Bearcats are, I wanted at least 60 more minutes.

Well ...

We didn't really get what I was looking for. Monsoon games make things weird, so I'm not sure what long-term impressions to gather from that one. I think I feel confident that the defense is quite good, but I was also impressed with them last year and things eroded fairly quickly.

The Bearcats play Alabama A&M on Saturday in Nippert. FCS games are also nearly worthless, so I'll have to wait until 9/22 before I feel like I've truly gotten a feel for this team.

I placed the Ohio game at #1 on my ranking of 2018 home games, and I'd move it even higher now if I were able to. Barring a monumental breakdown against the Bulldogs this weekend, the Bearcats will welcome the Bobcats to Nippert in a couple weeks at 3-0 for the first time since 2012. Ohio may not have looked great in their opening win over Howard, but they're picked to win the MAC this year. If you care about rebuilding narratives more than brand names or AP rankings, it's probably the biggest game at Nippert since 2013.

 

 

Standouts

I'm growing more confident in Desmond Ridder. You know the Football Guy thing where you call kids a "gamer" or whatever? Desmond Ridder is a gamer. The kid's career completion percentage is sitting just below 55% at 4.7 yards per attempt, but he's also carried the ball 32 times for 163 yards, good for an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. Prior to Hayden Moore's nice little breakout last year (312 yards), the last Bearcat QBs to run for 163 in a season were Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux in 2012. Ridder's already done it in his first two games.

I really hope they let him throw it on Saturday against Alabama A&M. We know he can run, but if this team wants to take the leap from 'let's please make a bowl game' to eight wins and beyond, they'll need passing yards. Plain and simple. Let's see what he can do.

I can't say enough about Mike Warren. The kid has that quality great players have. Warren started Saturday poorly. I don't have a good reason why, but there was not much going after a phenomenal opener in Pasadena. However, lots of great running backs get better as the game goes on and Warren certainly did. He finished out with 29 carries for 91 yards—the kind of stat line you'll get in a monsoon. He scored the game's first points, which wound up being enough, and added an exclamation point in the fourth.

The biggest surprise to me is that this kid is not tall. I mean, he's 5'11", and I guess I knew that. But after the bruising, yards-after-contact performance in LA, I think I'd built him up to be 6'4" in my head. But no, he was shorter than many of the reporters at the press conference. Badass.

You know who isn't small? This defense. Cortez Broughton, Bryan Wright, and Marquise Copeland especially. That's a trio of intimidating humans and they're worth the price of admission alone. Truly. Think about how toothless this defense has been at times over the past two or three years. No more. It's still early, but these kids are big, fast, and fun to watch.

In keeping with the throwback vibes, UC has an incredible punter again. James Smith is following in the footsteps of guys like Kevin Huber and Pat O'Donnell—Bearcat punters who are making lots of money on Sundays. The Australian is really good, and honestly had a case for Player of the Game with the score sitting at 7-0 heading to the fourth quarter.

Also, goodness gracious. James Wiggins hit some kid with the force of a thousand suns.

 
 
 

 

Final Thoughts

  • Dave Meyer and the folks at Miami were kind enough to let OhVarsity cover the game as media. Our very own Matt Allaire and Emily Witt did a fantastic job, but I also left feeling grateful that my alma mater has so many talented, dedicated, and passionate people covering the team. There's a good group of people up in the press box every week.
  • This team may not be bonafide winners quite yet, but they sure can celebrate like it. As stupid as it sounds, I think that's important. The scene (or the sound) in the locker room Saturday was awesome. I have a feeling it'll only get better.
  • Back at Nippert this weekend and couldn't be happier.
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