The BlackCats Look to Overcome the Tigers on Black Friday

This Friday, the 10-1 Bearcats travel south to face the 10-1 Memphis Tigers on the road in the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The game airs before a nationally-televised audience at 3:30 pm on ABC.

They’ll face Memphis on the heels of back to back near losses against USF and Temple. Last Saturday, UC had to dig down deep on Senior Night. The passing game was not firing on all cylinders, in part due to the inclement weather, in part due to a few key drops, in part due to an injury to Desmond Ridder, and in part due to some questionable play calls given the circumstances. Between the always reliable Mike Warren and some exquisite special teams plays, the Bearcats found a way to keep winning. The difference in the game was two points. The two point difference arrived in a nontraditional fashion, after 6’9″ Lorenz Metz blocked an extra point and Coby Bryant returned the ball 100 yards for a two point defensive conversion.

The Temple game marks at least the third game of the year the Bearcats have won because of special teams. Hats off to coach Brian Mason.

If not clear before the Temple game, it is now crystal-clear UC is struggling to throw the ball consistently down the field beyond five yards and the penalties are really causing problems. UC is leading the country in field hankies at 9.4 per game; over 100 penalties on the year, already.

The Bearcats have limped past ECU, USF, and Temple by a combined eight points, and now face the most potent, best overall offense in the AAC – Memphis. Coach Mike Norvell has the Tigers poised to play in their third AAC Championship Game in a row. He just interviewed at Arkansas and reports are surfacing that he’s highly interested in the Florida State opening. We can only hope those off-the-field distractions play a role this week and aid the Bearcats chances.

Memphis is also 10-1 on the season, and it seems as though few in the media are giving the Bearcats much of a chance in this game. Memphis’s lone loss is to the same Temple squad UC just beat. An analysis of the common opponents proves somewhat interesting:

  • UC beat Temple 15-13 while Memphis lost 30-28.
  • UC beat USF 20-17 while Memphis won in dominating fashion 49-10.
  • UC beat Tulsa 24-13 while Memphis narrowly escaped 42-41.
  • UC beat Houston 38-23 while Memphis won 45-27.

In other words, UC played better games against Tulsa and Temple, while Memphis played better games against USF and Houston. The value of transitive win properties notwithstanding, I don’t think you can simply say “well Memphis dominated USF while Cincinnati barely escaped Raymond James Stadium so Memphis should kill the Bearcats.” Even if that’s the same reasoning behind the Coach’s Poll, AP, Poll, and Playoff Committee Rankings – all of which essentially have the two squads neck and neck, the teams still have to pad up and face each other on the turf.

UC has been living dangerously as of late, but they are still alive. And there is something to say about a team that believes they will find a way – someway, somehow – to win. Whether it’s a walk-off field goal against ECU or USF or a blocked field goal returned for a TD against Temple, Coach Fickell has the team believing, which is a lot more valuable than simply having some gaudy passing or offensive statistics, like what a number of fans seems to want.

UC has the edge against Memphis in special teams all-around: kicking, returning, blocking, punting, field goals, and the overall luck factor. Don’t sleep on the role special teams (and good fortune) plays in the outcome of football games. If the Bearcats block a punt against Memphis or pin their offense inside the five-yard-line, you should not be surprised in the least at this point.

The Bearcats have the 23rd ranked total defense; Memphis the 48th. Marcus Freeman will have his BlackCats ready to go on Black Friday, short week or not. The UC secondary will have to play a nearly perfect game. Thankfully the targeting call against safety Darrick Forrest during the Temple game was reversed so he can start this Friday. Forrest, the AAC Defensive Player of the Week, leads the team in tackles and has been the glue holding the secondary together much of the season.

Statistically, Memphis has the edge on offense and it’s not even close. Junior QB Brady White has 30 TDs to just 7 picks. He has also thrown for 3,074 yards. Freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell is regarded as one of the best backs in the entire country. He has racked up 1,294 yards and is averaging a whopping 6.8 yards per carry. For the Bearcats to have any chance, Gainwell must be shut down. Memphis also has a slew of versatile wide receivers. 

The optics of UC’s recent wins are rough, bordering on unbelievable. They are winning ugly, according to the national media (and just about anyone watching the games), which is why despite racking up W’s, their ranking is either stagnating or dropping. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder…and the Bearcats are 10-1 just like Memphis. 

The Memphis defense has been suspect in past outings, giving up 41 to Tulsa and 48 to SMU. UC will have plenty of opportunities to score. However, we fully expect Memphis to stack the box to try to shut down Warren and Doaks, and force Number Nine to beat them with his arm. Friday will be a big stage and test for the Bearcats defense and for Coach Fickell to defeat the only AAC team he has not won against in his three year coaching tenure.

We predict a Bearcats win (35-31) and hope to face Navy/SMU in the AAC Championship Game at Nippert Stadium with a trip to the Cotton Bowl on the line. On Black Friday, Coach Marcus Freeman’s BlackCats lead the way…

Go Bearcats!

By Andy Smith

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