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A closer look at No. 15 Cincinnati, which hosts USF on Saturday

The 15th-ranked Bearcats have won 15 consecutive games at Nippert Stadium.
Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford (right), an Armwood High alumnus, cuts upfield past Army defender Marquel Broughton en route to a touchdown during the Bearcats' 24-10 win Saturday.
Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford (right), an Armwood High alumnus, cuts upfield past Army defender Marquel Broughton en route to a touchdown during the Bearcats' 24-10 win Saturday. [ JAY LAPRETE | AP ]
Published Sep. 29, 2020

A look at No. 15 Cincinnati, which hosts USF on Saturday at Nippert Stadium

Nickame: Bearcats

2020 record: 2-0 (0-0 American Athletic Conference)

2019 record: 11-3 (7-1 in AAC; defeated Boston College, 38-6 in Birmingham Bowl)

Coach: Luke Fickell (fourth season at Cincinnati, 28-13; fifth season overall, 34-20)

The offensive breakdown: The Bearcats' 24-10 home win Saturday against then-No. 22 Army might have been more lop-sided had it not been for veteran quarterback Desmond Ridder’s shaky first half. The 6-foot-4 junior fumbled a pitch on a misread option play (returned for a scoop-and-score) and threw an interception on two of Cincinnati’s first three possessions. He also struggled with his downfield accuracy before settling down and posting solid numbers (18-for-33, 258 yards, two TDs, one INT). Ridder’s top targets Saturday, juniors Michael Young and Jayshon Jackson, combined for nine receptions for 135 yards against Army. The Bearcats ran for only 69 yards Saturday, which belies the talent they possess in the backfield. Burly senior Gerrid Doaks (6-foot, 230 pounds) is the starter, but Alabama transfer (and Armwood High alumnus) Jerome Ford led Cincy with 34 yards on eight carries against the Black Knights. They operate behind a veteran line now featuring Michigan transfer James Hudson (6-5, 310) at left tackle. Though more than capable of spreading the field and/or flourishing in an RPO scheme, the Bearcats may take a cue from the USF-Notre Dame film, employ a power run game and intersperse some play-action pass.

The defensive breakdown: The Bearcats held Army to 182 rushing yards, more than 200 below its season average. They loaded the box and used a single-high safety against the Army flexbone, and may be inclined to similarly crowd the line Saturday until USF proves consistent in the passing game. Senior Jarell White, the “sniper” linebacker in highly respected coordinator Marcus Freeman’s base 3-3-5 look, had 15 tackles Saturday. The secondary is teeming with talent, which hardly bodes well for a Bulls offense trying to develop a rhythm. Senior safety James Wiggins, who tore an ACL a year ago, has 13 tackles and two pass breakups in two games. Cornerback Ahmad “Sauce Gardner” has a pick, two pass breakups and 10 tackles. Bear in mind, Freeman’s unit held UCF to its lowest point total (24) and yardage total (423) last season.

Odds & ends: Cincinnati has won 15 consecutive games at Nippert Stadium. ... In addition to Ford, the Bearcats roster includes sophomore safety Jaquan Sheppard (Zephyrhills). ... Dan Enos, Miami’s beleaguered offensive coordinator in 2019, is Fickell’s running backs coach.

Audible: “I think the thing that stands out to me about their team is their depth at the offensive line and defensive line. I have a lot of respect for Army...and just sitting back and watching it on TV, Cincinnati just dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides, and I haven’t seen anybody do that to Army in the last couple of years.” — USF coach Jeff Scott