Against the Michigan Wolverines, Bearcats Look to Regain National Prominence

The Michigan Wolverines, led by head coach and former Indianapolis Colt Jim Harbaugh, are ranked 8th in the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls following their win last week against the Florida Gators. Luke Fickell takes his unranked, upstart Cincinnati Bearcats to Ann Arbor this Saturday in a game that has Bearcats fans excited but that Las Vegas predicts will be a 34.5 point lopsided victory for the Wolverines.

Michigan “got by” Florida.

In the Wolverines’ season opener against the Gators on Saturday in Arlington, Texas, Michigan prevailed 33-17 and handed Florida its first season opening loss since 1989. It was quite a run for the Gators, but thanks to Harbaugh’s petty gamesmanship and McElwain’s suspension of ten players for allegedly participating in some kind of debit card scam, among them tailback Jordan Scarlett and receiver Antonio Callaway, Michigan got by Florida. 

Yeah, I said it – Michigan got by Florida.

Once you comb through the hype, it wasn’t a blow-out win or even that impressive of a win over Florida. Think about it. The Gators were actually up at the half 17-13, and only trailed Michigan by nine with under two to play in the fourth quarter.  With 1:37 left in the fourth, Florida QB Malik Zaire failed to secure the ball dropping back out of the shotgun into his own end zone. Michigan’s defense caused Zaire to fumble and recovered it for a touchdown bringing the score to 33-17. It was a close game, despite that Florida failed to score an offensive touchdown, suspended ten of its best players, and Florida was prevented from fully preparing because of Jim Harbaugh’s late-roster-release-weak-sauce-move. 

That said, there was one exceptionally bright spot for the Wolverines, their defense. In case you missed it, THE MICHIGAN DEFENSE DID NOT ALLOW A SINGLE FLORIDA OFFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN. After the game, some commentators attributed this to the ineptness of the Florida offense rather than the strength of the Michigan defense. There is some statistical support for that argument but Michigan Defensive Coordinator, Don Brown, may have one of the best if not the best defense in college football. Michigan held Florida to 11 total rushing yards on 27 total attempts. That’s a rush defense that only allowed an average of 0.4 yards per carry, which is quite impressive against Florida’s SEC speed, to say the least. 

The Bearcats “got by” Austin Peay.

In the Bearcats’ season opener at Nippert Stadium last Thursday night, Cincinnati defeated the Austin Peay Governors 26-14. Overall, it was a pedestrian first outing that should have resulted in a more lopsided victory.

While Michigan got by Florida, UC just got by Austin Peay.

By way of contrast, UC’s slim victory was more cagey, closer to the vest. It’s not clear whether Coach Fickell fully opened the playbook, whereas Michigan had no incentive to hold back against Florida. The Bearcats’ outing provides little help forecasting just how good this team can be, especially against a team like Michigan on a stage as big as The Big House

Bearcats’ tailback Mike Boone rushed for 100 yards against the Governors on 19 attempts and his longest carry was a 26 yard gain. In order for Cincinnati to be offensively successful against the Wolverines, Boone has to have a huge day.

This, in turn, could open up the passing game for Cincinnati’s receivers (Devin Gray #21, Sr.; Jerron Rollins #26, So.; Thomas Geddis #85, So.; Kahlil Lewis #1, Jr.; TE Tyler Cogswell #18, Sr.). Last Thursday night, Junior QB Hayden Moore completed 17 of 28 passes for 151 yards with 3 touchdowns against Austin Peay, the best of which came on a nicely executed out-and-up pattern down the middle on a short yardage goal line play to TE Tyler Cogswell. Cogswell is a beast (6-5, 248) and it would tremendously benefit the Bearcats offense to utilize the Moore-Cogswell connection against Michigan, particularly in 2nd and 3rd down sets.

Moore’s ability to connect with his leanest WR, Thomas Geddis (6-5, 185), and junior speedster and 2016 most valuable receiver, Kahlil Lewis, will prove equally critical if the Bearcats are going to put offensive points on the board in Ann Arbor.

UC’s receiving corps can be a talented bunch, with an exciting mishmash of size and speed, if their maturity and decision making can outpace their experience.

Florida showed that big receivers can take advantage of the Michigan secondary. 

Two Keys – Rush D and Down 3.

The Bearcats have to improve their third down efficiency. The Bearcats only converted 3 of 11 third downs against Austin Peay, and must do better on Saturday against the Wolverines. 

The Bearcats’ D is key. The Bearcats’ defense must put some pass pressure, with varying blitz packages, on mistake-prone Michigan QB Wilton Speight.

Michigan has an outstanding offensive line and Speight had all day to stand in the pocket and find open receivers against Florida. Michigan had 218 passing yards and averaged 8.4 yards per pass against Florida but Speight did throw back-to-back pick sixes. If the Bearcats’ safeties and corners can keep Michigan’s receivers in front of them and cause a few turnovers with interceptions or fumbles, the Bearcats will have a shot at the upset.

Cincinnati’s defensive line will play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of this game. Sophomore DE for the Bearcats, Bryan White, made a key interception on 3rd & Goal against the Governors at the end of the first half to save an Austin Peay touchdown or field goal. It was a great play by the big fella. White and the rest of the D-Line will need to dig in and get their hands up to knock down, tip, and block Speight’s passes and passing lanes. Remember, the Gators had two back-to-back pick sixes thanks to sloppy Speight passes.

The Bearcats D has to keep Speight in Slopsburg Saturday. 

Finally, a few matters of concern…

First, the Bearcats gave up 224 rushing yards to Austin Peay. Against Florida, Michigan, led by Ty Isaac, had 215 total rushing yards and averaged 4.4 yards per rush. As Coach Fickell observed, the Wolverines’ backfield is deep and of a higher quality than the Governors’ backfield. The Bearcats have to stop the Michigan run game. It’s that simple.

Second, Austin Peay’s time of possession was almost double that of Cincinnati. The Governors had 313 total yards versus the Bearcats with a 37:41 time of possession. Michigan had 433 total yards versus Florida with a time of possession of 34:13. With The Big House crowd and all of their offensive weapons (Speight, Isaac, Tarik Black), Michigan is not a team that the Bearcats can allow to win the time of possession battle. But again, one of the major keys is for Cincinnati to improve its third down efficiency to keep its offense on the field while the clock ticks. Assuming the Bearcats do so, this game has all the makings to be a major upset and put the Bearcats back in the national college football spotlight. 

Well, that’s GQ’s preview for the Bearcats- Week Two. Thanks for reading. 

Final Prediction: Bearcats 34, Wolverines 31. GO BEARCATS!

By Gabe Quearry