Fickell gone, but 'Cats remain big challenge for MU
Possession time, turnovers among key stats
By MIKE SMITH
For those who thought the Cincinnati Bearcats might lose some momentum after Head Coach Luke Fickell left for Wisconsin, the early returns say, "Not so far!!!"
The 'Cats are 2-0 thus far under new Head Coach Scott Satterfield, and it looks like UC will be well-prepared to defend possession of the Victory Bell when it meets Miami Saturday night at Nippert Stadium. The RedHawks are now 1-1 after knocking off UMass 41-28 in a weather-delayed marathon last Saturday. It was the . . .
. . . second straight week in which the RedHawks were delayed by weather, although the UMass contest -- scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. didn't finish until after midnight.
Although the RedHawks are on the road for a third straight week, the forecast (as of midweek) showed only a 5% chance of rain Saturday.
Miami and UC first met in 1888. It was, in fact, the first college football game played in the state of Ohio and is known as the longest-lasting collegiate football rivalry west of the Allegheny Mountains. Miami owned a double-digit series lead in the early 2000s. However, Cincinnati, which became part of the Big 12 Conference this year, has won the last 16 straight Victory Bell games and now has a 60-59 (7 ties) edge in the series.
Miami's last win was back in 2005 (44-16) in Oxford. The RedHawks came close to winning in 2017, but a couple late miscues led to a 21-17 loss. That also marked the last meeting in Oxford. Covid wiped out the 2020 game, and with a neutral site (in Cincinnati) figuring into the mix, Saturday's contest will be the fifth straight battle away from Oxford. Last season, Cincinnati scored 31 straight points in a 38-17 win at Paycor Stadium - home of the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals.
Here's more on . . .
-- Luke Fickell, who elevated the Cincinnati program substantially in his six years as head coach, took the Wisconsin job last November. With UC on a path to Big 12 membership, the school hired Louisville Head Coach Scott Satterfield.
-- Martin noted Satterfield's teams have enjoyed offensive success everywhere he's been. So far, it appears the Bearcats are already benefitting. Despite significant personnel turnover, they blew out Eastern Kentucky team 66-13 in Week 1. That same Colonels team stayed with Kentucky during a 28-17 loss last week.
-- The 'Cats were again impressive last week against Pitt. They led 20-7 at intermission and were up 27-7 through three quarters. "Cincinnati really took it to them in the first half," Martin said.
Two fourth quarter Panther touchdowns closed the gap to six points, but a UC sack on fourth down ended Pitt's last possession.
-- A key cog in Cincinnati's offense is 6-3, 212-pound senior quarterback Emory Jones. The former Florida and Arizona State player has completed 75.5 percent of his passes in a Bearcat uniform. The 37 completions for 470 yards include seven touchdowns with just one interception. He has also run for two scores. His 199.14 passer rating ranks No. 7 in the country.
-- Martin pointed out Jones passed for 2,734 yards and ran for another 759 yards during his 2021 season at Florida. "If you can have 3,600 (total) yards in the SEC, you're a pretty good player."
-- Cincinnati is able to balance the air attack with a solid run game. Leading the way is former LSU runner Corey Kiner (5-9, 215). "He's every bit as good as the Miami (FL) running backs ( we faced) - maybe a hair better," Martin said.
Kiner ran for 153 yards and a TD against Pitt. Kiner leads the Big 12 and ranks sixth in the country in rushing yards per game (129.0).
-- With "tons of skill guys" available, Martin noted UC likes to "run the football and ... (then) throw it over your heads."
-- The Bearcats have also carved out a powerful defensive identity in recent years, and Martin sees the talent for continuity in 2023. It starts with the front three. They are "just big, phyisical kids," Martin said. "They are wrecking havoc. Those three guys alone are a problem in the run and pass games. ... They're very immovable and they clog up (lanes)."
-- Defensive tackle Dontay "The Godfather" Corleone were preseason All-Big 12 picks. He earned Third Team All-Americans honors from the AP in 2022 and was the nation's highest graded defensive player last fall, according to PFF.
-- Defensive Coordinator Bryan Brown's Louisville defense led the nation with 50 sacks in 2022.
-- With the defensive front three enjoying so much success, it creates more opportunities for the remaining eight. Martin pointed out that while the secondary has undergone changes, it features "ball hawks and tacklers. They like to jump routes and they're very physical."
-- After getting back to campus near breakfast time on Sunday, the RedHawks' first order of business was to get some sleep. "We were all zombies ... to a certain extent," Martin said. Although they were able to get together later, they were already behind on preparation. Martin said Monday he felt they could make up for some lost time during the week, and it help that there were led medical issues on Monday that after the Miami (FL) game.
-- Despite the weather/delay, Miami's offense came to life against UMass. Much of the success owed to passing combo of QB Brett Gabbert and WR Gage Larvadain.
-- Larvadain caught eight balls for 273 yards and three touchdowns against UMass. A fourth touchdown went to Cade McDonald, who fell on a loose football that was knocked out of Larvadain's hands on a 70-yard pass play.
-- Larvadain has 16 catches on the year. No other RedHawk has more than two receptions.
-- Tight end Luke Bolden was shaken up during the UMass game but was listedbehind Nate Muersch on this week's two-deep. The RedHawks are already short at tight end due to the loss to Jack Coldiron at Miami (FL).
-- DB Michael Dowell has two interceptions -- one in each MU game to date.
-- Redshirt junior linebacker Matt Salopek seems on his way to another big year. He already has 17 tackles (6 solo).
-- Kicker Graham Nicholson remained perfect on the season, hitting two field goals (long of 44) at UMass.
-- Miami hopes to make its run game more productive this year, and the RedHawks churned out 144 yards Saturday. Rashad Amos (6-2, 234) carried 25 times for 115 yards (5.0 ypc) to lead the way. "He's a big, physical back (with) really good contact balance," Martin said. He got (some extra yards for us and did a good job in pass (protection)."
Cincinnati's talent and size -- at least in places -- will resemble the Miami Hurricanes. The RedHawks will surely take all the "chunk" plays they can get. However, those will be sporadic.
The RedHawks need to find a way to extend their own possessions and limit UC's possession time. That means finding a way to run the ball and pick up first downs. It also means avoiding penalties and turnovers, the effects of which are magnified against Power Five teams.
Sooner or later, MU also needs to get catches from more receivers. MAC teams will certainly feature Larvadain in defensive plans. Cincinnati, like the Miami Hurricanes, has the talent to handle opposing receivers with one-on-one schemes.
Much depends on the offensive line. Can they create running lanes and can they give Gabbert the kind of time he had against UMass.
On the other side, the Miami defense will be tested early -- and often. Cincinnati is capable of moving well by land or air. Every time you can get off the field with little or no damage will be a mini-victory.
If its not a sold out stadium, it will be close - and loud. As with many road games, it comes down to: EXECUTE AND GIVE YOURSELF A CHANCE
Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.