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12 Up, 12 Down: Cincinnati Bearcats

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Prove us wrong.

Navy v Cincinnati Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Opponent: Cincinnati Bearcats

2018 Record: 8-1, 4-1 AAC

Head Coach: Luke Fickell, Second Season

Date/Time/Location: Saturday, November 10, 7 p.m. at Nippert Stadium (40,000), Cincinnati, Ohio.

How To Watch/Listen: ESPNU, 820 AM, Bulls Unlimited, iHeartRadio

Series History: Cincinnati leads series 8-7. USF has won last three, all by at least 25 points.

Background:

The South Florida Bulls are coming off back-to-back drubbings at the hands of AAC West foes Houston and Tulane and there’s seemingly no end in sight for USF to finish the season. The Bulls get to face a Luke Fickell-led team that appears to be a year ahead of schedule and they may have found their quarterback of the future in freshman Desmon Ridder.

USF meanwhile has to figure out a way to pick themselves off the mat after getting bulldozed by the Cougars and Green Wave. Head coach Charlie Strong, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary have to make some changes if USF wants to finish this season better than the 7-5 record they’re staring at.

To make matters worse, it’s going to be freezing in Cincinnati with temperatures expected to be in the 20s. It’s a blackout game for the Bearcats, and Nippert Stadium is one of the loudest and most intimidating places to play in the Group of Five, if not the country. Do not @ me.

Cincinnati Depth Chart

USF Depth Chart

S&P+ Breakdown...

S&P+

Team S&P+(Overall USF O vs Cincy D USF D vs Cincy O Special Teams
Team S&P+(Overall USF O vs Cincy D USF D vs Cincy O Special Teams
USF 51 33 68 102
Cincy 28 17 78 66

It appears that this match up is going “strength on strength” with USF’s 33rd-ranked offense going up against Cincy’s 17th-ranked defense and the Bulls shotty defense facing a stagnant Bearcat offense.

Looking closer, the USF offense has sputtered this season, save for the UMass game. The Bulls have put up plenty of empty calorie yards, but have not been able to cash in on those yards.

Last week without tight end Mitchell Wilcox, the offense looked absolutely lost. Wilcox is a fantastic blocker and has become quarterback Blake Barnett’s security blanket for most of the season. Barnett has thrown just two touchdowns in the last four games while he’s tossed five interceptions. He’s thrown an pick in five straight games.

The Bearcats defense has been lights out this season. They’re fresh off shutting out Navy 42-0 and held Midshipman quarterback Zach Abey to 37 yards on 28 carries. Navy rushed for just 124 yards on 52 carries.

Good thing USF isn’t a running team...

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

When Cincinnati Runs...

Team Rushing S&P Rushing Efficiency Rushing Explosiveness Stuff Rate
Team Rushing S&P Rushing Efficiency Rushing Explosiveness Stuff Rate
USF Defense 97 109 86 66
Cincy Offense 74 69 27 30

The Cincinnati rushing attack is led by sophomore Michael Warren II, who leads the team with 931 yards (5.2 ypc) and 14 touchdowns on the ground. He carried the ball 15 times for 70 yards and two scores last week versus Navy.

Ridder is second on the team in rushing with 545 (5.7 ypc) yards and five touchdowns. He rushed for 66 yards and a score last week. It’s no secret USF has struggled mightily against running quarterbacks and they’ll get no rest on Saturday.

Freshmen Tavion Thomas and Charles McClelland have also rushed for over 300 yards each.

The Bulls will be without middle linebacker Nico Sawtelle (shoulder) again Saturday, but will get back linebacker Khalid McGee after he sat out the Tulane game due to shoving defensive backs coach Blue Adams at Houston. Defensive tackle Kevin Kegler (8.5 run stuffs) should be back as well after missing Tulane.

Defensive ends Kirk Livingstone and Josh Black led the team with 10.5 run stuffs. Black has quietly been a nice surprise this season for the Bulls.

Over the last three games without Sawtelle, USF has allowed opposing teams to rush for 950 yards on 152 carries and 12 touchdowns, including 365 yards last week versus Tulane.

When Cincy Passes

Team Passing S&P Passing Efficiency Passing Explosiveness Sack Rate
Team Passing S&P Passing Efficiency Passing Explosiveness Sack Rate
USF Defense 31 23 77 22
Cincinnati Offense 108 48 95 68

USF’s numbers look good against the pass, but when you can rush for nearly six yards per play against them there’s really no need to throw the ball. Tulane averaged over seven yards per carry last week and if the Bulls can’t maintain gap integrity, get off blocks, and tackle better Cincinnati will see no reason to put the ball in the air.

Cincy throws the ball just 37.6% of the time, but with Ridder they’ve been very careful and effective when he does throw. He’s completed 62% of his passes for 1,703 yards to go along with 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

Senior wide receiver Khalil Lewis has caught 36 of his 53 targets for 453 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Josiah Deguara has caught 29 of his 45 targets for 382 yards and four touchdowns. Deguara is a big body, listed at 6’4”, 246 pounds and will be trouble for the USF linebackers in coverage.

When USF Runs...

Team Rushing S&P Rushing Efficiency Rushing Explosiveness Stuff Rate
Team Rushing S&P Rushing Efficiency Rushing Explosiveness Stuff Rate
USF Offense 34 20 14 39
Cincinnati Defense 7 4 42 46

For USF to have any chance on Saturday they must be able to move the ball on the ground effectively. That has been hit-or-miss for the Bulls all season long. Getting Wilcox back should be a huge boost to the run game. Reserve TE Jacob Mathis is not a good blocking tight end and it showed during the opening drive versus Tulane when he missed his block and running back Johnny Ford is hit four yards behind the line of scrimmage before the play could even get going.

It’s unclear if Ford has supplanted Jordan Cronkrite as the lead back, but Cronk only got six carries last week and Ford led the running backs with 10.

USF used Ford and Cronk in the backfield at the same time on a couple of occasions last week and ran the triple option. It’s an interesting wrinkle added by Gilbert that we probably should’ve seen last year. Barnett kept the ball more on the read-options last week than he has done in previous weeks and it worked to some extent. Also, if USF is gonna run fake jet action every third play, maybe let the WR actually get the ball on one to keep the defense honest.

The interior of the USF offensive line will have their hands full competing against DT Cortez Broughton who is fourth on the team in tackles (40), first in TFL (15.5), and sacks (5.5). He’s chipped in four pass breakups for the hell of it. If it weren’t for Ed Oliver, he’d be getting more publicity.

When USF Passes...

Team Passing S&P Passing Efficiency Passing Explosiveness Sack Rate
Team Passing S&P Passing Efficiency Passing Explosiveness Sack Rate
USF Offense 91 28 100 84
Cincinnati Defense 10 2 62 67

No Fly Zone Cincy.

As we mentioned at the beginning, USF’s passing game has been nothing short of dreadful since UMass. The Bulls haven’t thrown a red zone touchdown since the Illinois game. Barnett has continually missed open receivers and has started to get happy feet and bail out early because his offensive line has been nonexistent. USF has replaced their left tackle twice (depending on if you believe Eric Mayes was truly injured) and their center Michael Wiggs who lined up as tight end versus Tulane.

Offensive line coach Matt Mattox has turned Marcus Norman into the guy we saw against Temple in 2016 and not the all-conference selection he was last season. Mattox chased away Wiggs’ only other competition—Brooks Larkin—during spring practice and has not made any lineman better in the time he’s been here. True freshman Brad Cecil has been serviceable as a starter, but needs more time.

On passing downs, USF is giving up sacks 10% of the time, which is horrific. Cronkrite and Ford have to stay to protect on most downs because there’s usually pressure coming from somewhere unblocked.

USF hopes to get wide out Randall St. Felix back for Saturday and he’ll add another dimension for the offense. Senior wide receiver Tyre McCants leads the team in receptions and yards with 51 and 543, respectively. Junior Darnell Salomon needs to find his hands fast. He has dropped no fewer than six passes over the last three weeks, including one that turned into an interception last week and he also had a fumble.

Special Teams

One team is coached by Justin Burke and the other isn’t. Advantage Cincy.

Prediction

The Bearcats are favored by 12 and it seems too low. Cold weather, a blackout game at night in Nippert, and three years of ass-kickings to avenge?

Cincy 45, USF 17.

Prove me wrong.