Through seven games, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats are 6-1 and ranked #18 in the country. The Cats made it past the hump this year by besting the Central Florida Knights. With a lone loss to the #3 ranked Buckeyes, UC fans should all be grinning ear to ear.
The Black Cats defense has been stellar – leading the country in turnovers with 19 total takeaways, including 11 interceptions and 8 fumble recoveries. The 34th ranked total defense behind defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman has played a huge role in this team’s success. Enough cannot be said about cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens. The former standout UC defensive back is channeling himself in the Bearcats secondary.
It’s been great to have Arquon Bush back in the secondary, along with the stars Bryan Wright, Jarell Wright, and leading tackler Darrick Forrest. Role players like Ethan Tucky have stepped up. And to think – UC has done this without one of the most talented players on the team, James Wiggins. Ja’von Hicks has stepped right in and made a name for himself at safety and is tied for 4th in the nation with four interceptions.
Offensively, the Bearcats have not compiled eye-popping numbers. However, the team has been very steady and efficient when they need to produce. The Truck, Mike Warren, has nearly 500 yards and Gerrid Doaks is finally back to himself, coming off a 100 all-purpose yard game (and three touchdowns). It will be very helpful to have the two-headed monster in the backfield coming down the stretch of the regular season as the bumps and bruises begin to take their toll.
Desmond Ridder is responsible for 15 touchdowns. He is completing 60% of his passes and has just five interceptions. He is spreading the ball around very well. Fifteen different players have receptions, and sophomore Alec Pierce has emerged as a true deep threat and jump ball expert. Dez is not a predictable passer. He takes what the defense gives him, whether it’s a short pass, a bomb, or an open lane to run for a first down. Oh, and he is doing this behind a very inexperienced offensive line.
Punter James Smith’s name is on just about every trophy and award watchlist. He is averaging 42.9 yards per punt and is a true weapon in flipping the field. Field goal kicking has been a bit suspect, connecting for just six of the 10 attempts on the year, with two kicks being blocked. Overall, the UC special teams behind coach Brian Mason has been fundamentally sound and has not given up very many big plays on the year. There is not much more you can ask. Many games are won and lost in this phase of football.
UC finishes the year with home games against Connecticut and Temple and away games against East Carolina, South Florida, and Memphis. The front-loaded schedule sets up well for a possible 11-1 regular season and spot in the AAC Championship Game against SMU. Not only that, but with a Boise State loss, there is also a strong possibility the Bearcats could play in one of the coveted New Year’s bowl games as the highest-ranked Group of 5 team.
Hats off to Coach Fickell and his staff for putting together a great team once again.
By Andy Smith
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