It’s the last day of September, and your Cincinnati Bearcats have five wins under their belt. Let that sink in.
Take a glance back at my season preview and you’ll see I had the ‘Cats pegged at 3-2 through five games, which, by the way, would’ve been a start that satisfied me. Instead, Cincinnati won five games in a calendar month for the first time since October 1954 and are exceeding expectations more rapidly than any UC football team I can remember.
I won’t belabor the point, but a month ago I was trying to pump the brakes on expectations, calmly predicting 6-6 while others worried another year without a bowl game was in the cards. The very few people that were foolish enough to think in the realm of an 8- or 9-win season were scoffed at.
Our expectations for this team have ramped up so rapidly that it’s still September and it already feels incredibly trite to write about how this team is surprising us all.
From “Please get six wins” to “5-0; We get it” in a month.
For a brief, hilarious moment, we thought UConn might make this game annoying. Husky QB David Pindell (who kind of impressed me, for the record) marched his offense down the field on the first drive of the game. Five plays, 75 yards, 1:54 off the clock. Cincinnati’s defense looked sluggish out of the gate for the second week in a row and I started to envision a scenario where the Bearcats would have to win a 42-35 shootout against a Huskies team that can move the ball when things are clicking.
Instead, the Bearcats scored touchdowns on seven of their next nine drives, controlling the game like they were facing a scout team defense.
11 plays, 74 yards, 5:38, touchdown.
14 plays, 88 yards, 5:15, touchdown.
6 plays, 79 yards, 0:38, touchdown.
The Bearcats went into the half leading 21-7 after a less-than convincing start and victory felt assured thanks to a Desmond Ridder touchdown run, a Mike Warren touchdown run, and a Ridder to Rashad Medaris touchdown pass. (By the way, each of those guys are freshman and sophomores.)
Let’s talk about Mike Warren, shall we?
The sophomore came into the season at #2 on the depth chart, looking at a near 50/50 split with Gerrid Doaks for carries. He impressed last season as a freshman by racking up 324 yards at a 6-yard per carry clip.
Doaks has been sidelined with a nagging groin injury, and I think some are starting to fear he might not see action this year at all. In his absence, Warren has grabbed the bull by the horns.
Rush attempts: 106—#3 in the country, #1 AAC
Rushing yards: 541—#11 in the country, #2 AAC
Rushing touchdowns: 10—#2 in the country, #1 AAC
Warren has been the guy Cincinnati has leaned on thus far, and he’s given them a rushing attack they haven’t had in years. If it feels like the Bearcats are running for a ton of yards, it’s because they are. Take this startling stat for example: The Bearcats didn’t have a single game with a 100-yard rushing performance in 2016. Last year, they had just two. So far this season, they’ve had at least one player rush for 100 yards in all five games.
So yes, Ridder is also moving the ball efficiently through the air, but Cincinnati is anchored by its running game, and it’s something that should actually get better with the eventual return of Doaks and the continued usage of freshmen like Charles McClelland and Tavion Thomas. Hell, Taylor Boose was buried on the depth chart until his first action Saturday and exploded for 66 yards.
As the season wears on, expect to see these rushing numbers continue. I love an exciting, pass-happy system as much as the next guy, but when you’ve got this kind of talent in the backfield, lean on it and see how far you can ride it.
How about the quarterbacks? Desmond Ridder is fun to watch, huh? The freshman continued adding to his upstart legacy with a 20-for-26 dismantling of UConn. He went for 270 yards and two more touchdowns. He’s now at a clean 100 passing attempts on the year, and he’s completed 67, which is just a hair over 2/3 for the math majors. He’s real good.
Hayden Moore entered the game in relief and looked good as well. The senior completed all three of his passes, and nearly had a touchdown strike on a really pretty dime to Malick Mbodj late in the game. Perhaps because of the score, Moore ran a lot. He tallied 32 yards on the ground and scored the game’s final touchdown on a pretty 11-yard scamper up the gut of the UConn defense in the fourth.
Cincinnati ran for 322 yards as a team, so we should probably talk about that I guess. Mike Warren had 106 yards and two touchdowns. Tavion Thomas had 56 yards and a touchdown. Desmond Ridder had 47 yards and a touchdown. Moore had 32 yards and a touchdown. Taylor Boose had 66 yards and a nice, long run.
Tight end Josiah Deguara, who isn’t getting enough love because of big names at QB and RB, continued on his warpath. He had five catches for 112 yards and a touchdown to lead all receivers. He and Ridder seem to really be clicking with each other, so I don’t see this connection slowing down soon.
Rashad Medaris is turning into a real playmaker. After his huge 77-yard catch to open the second half last week, he had a pretty toe-tap touchdown on Saturday going into the half.
Defensive player of the game was Kimoni Fitz, and it speaks to the season he’s having that fans have heard his name called a lot despite playing around players that are more proven. He had five total tackles on Saturday, 2.5 for a loss. He’s been great. Perry Young was coming back from an injury and he lead the team in total tackles with eight.
Additional shoutouts to Jarell White for a pretty red zone interception and to star recruit Malik Vann for his first career sack (…or half sack.)
One storyline we’re going to have to reckon with in a hurry is how much “Fool’s gold” this 5-0 start is or isn’t. I hate to even bring it up, but it’s going to be a topic of public discussion here soon. Let me say, to start, that 5-0 is incredible for this team and everyone should be excited. Homecoming next week should be an easy sellout and I expect to win. This team is growing by leaps and bounds and I haven’t had this much fun since the 2014 season, if not earlier.
That being said… The Bearcats have played a bad schedule. It’s just the facts, and it’s obviously not something the team can control. Credit to the ‘Cats for taking care of business and going undefeated, but their biggest challenge was an 0-4 UCLA team. Sports Reference tells me UC’s Strength of Schedule currently sits at 127th out of 130.
I’d take a cupcake schedule and a 12-0 season this year if it were an option, but things are about to get tougher. I only bring this topic up to warn everyone that there’s a good chance this team suddenly looks really bad in an upcoming game. They’re young, learning, and passing all the tests. Just keep in mind they’re relatively easy ones.
Because of what I just mentioned above, the AP Poll situation for UC is gonna be interesting to follow. (Note: I’m writing this before the release of Sunday’s poll.) UC doesn’t have the resume to be ranked right now, and they may not for the next week or two, even with wins. However, I think they’re gonna start banging on the door with a quantity over quality argument. Regardless of their opponents, it’s hard to keep out an undefeated team in October.
Center Garrett Campbell left the game with what looked like an ankle/leg injury. Freshman Jakari Robinson entered in relief and struggled at first, leading to a bad shotgun snap that ended in a fumble recovery by UConn. Credit Robinson for coming in cold and ultimately settling down (he was perfect on a quick touchdown drive to close the first half), but center is not a place where you want a freshman learning on the fly. I’m hoping Campbell is back quickly.
Luke Fickell can catch.
What’s a guy gotta do to get a sellout? It’s Homecoming and the team is 5-0 with bowl eligibility within their reach in the first weekend of October. Buy tickets and fill Nippert. I’m begging you.
Remember that nightmare game at ECU last year? The Bearcats haven’t lost since then. Feels like ages ago, right? Winning is fun.