After an unscheduled week off, USF opens their conference slate at No. 15 Cincinnati. As USF fans set their gaze upon the Bearcats, it will be much like a young Harry Potter gazing into the Mirror of Erised. You will see that which you most desire.
Bulls fans will see a team led by a former power five coordinator who had to come in and clean up the mess left by a big-name coach. They will see a team that is located in a major city that has recruited well and now finds themselves perennially at the top of the conference. They will see what USF hopes to become.
Unfortunately, we live in the present where the Bulls and the Bearcats find themselves in completely opposite situations. Cincinnati enters the game 2-0 and ranked 15th in both major polls. The Bulls, meanwhile, are coming off the worst loss in program history, a 52-0 thrashing at the hands of a physical Notre Dame team.
Under new head coach Jeff Scott, the Bulls still have more questions than answers. At no position is this more apparent than at quarterback. Scott hoped to have an established starter by the time the Bulls made their trip to the Queen City, but Covid and poor play have intervened. On the other end of the spectrum, Cincinnati is led by a quarterback who has made 27 career starts.
USF is at the proverbial starting gate, while Cincinnati is making the final turn into the home stretch. The numbers tell a similar story.
The numbers are almost all in Cincinnati’s favor. The Bearcats are better per play and better on third downs, on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati has also generated more explosive (20 yards+) plays on offense and allowed fewer on defense than the Bulls. To paraphrase math genius and all-around genetic freak Scott “Big Poppa Pump” Steiner, numbers don’t lie and they may spell disaster for USF this Saturday.
One number that is in USF’s favor is the one that can help underdogs spring an upset: turnover margin. The Bulls have been great this year at limiting the self-inflicted wounds, especially turnovers. USF has yet to give the ball away on offense and is ninth in the country with a plus three turnover margin. Cincinnati is 36th in the country with a margin of zero. The Bearcats have given the ball away three times on offense and taken it away three times on defense.
Bearcat Offense- Back in Black
Cincinnati appears improved on offense. The Bearcats use a few different personnel groupings and can operate at a high tempo. The skill players appear to be more explosive than last season, especially at wide receiver. They will use a mixture of downhill and perimeter run gam, while incorporating some Air Raid concepts into their passing game. Let’s take a closer look at the Cincinnati offensive schemes.
The Cincinnati offense is well put together and has some explosive skill players. But like many offenses, they will go as their quarterback goes. Desmond Ridder has a ton of experience and skill. However, he still has occasional problems with consistency. The Bulls will need bad Ridder to show up if they want to win on Saturday.
Bearcat Defense- Ready to Pounce
The Cincinnati defense is a physical, aggressive unit. They will play up in your face and challenge you every play. They are not afraid to bring pressure and play man behind it. They will also disguise their looks well, confusing opposing quarterbacks. Coordinator Marcus Freeman is a rising star in the coaching profession, and it’s easy to see why. Let’s take a closer look at some of Freeman’s schemes.
The way Cincinnati played Austin Peay is how I’d imagine they will play USF. They will be up in the Bulls face, playing a downhill, aggressive style. I’d imagine they will try to take away the run and make USF beat them with the pass. If the Bulls can’t hit some passes downfield, it may be a long afternoon in Nippert.
Our friends out in the desert have Cincinnati as a 21-point favorite. A Bulls win seems unlikely this week. Cincinnati is just way ahead of USF at this point. They return experienced players and a mostly cohesive coaching staff. Coach Fickell has built this program the right way and will reap the benefits this season. His team will provide a great test for a young USF team.
If USF wants a chance to win, they must win the turnover margin and explosive play battles. If you see USF leading those two categories at the end of the game, Jeff Scott will be flying to Tampa with his first signature win as a head coach.