Writer Jackson Pugh goes Inside The Enemy with 5 things to know about the Cincinnati Bearcats before Virginia Tech takes on the Bearcats in the Military Bowl.
1. Controlling the Line of Scrimmage
Luke Fickell is doing what Fickell does best: coach defense. The former Ohio State defensive coordinator has helped the Bearcats become one of the best defensive units in the country.
Cincinnati is 8th in the country in total defense, as they give up under 300 yards per game. They have also given up the 2nd fewest first downs in the country, behind only Southern Miss.
The unit makes its money off stopping the run; Cincinnati ranks 7th in the country in fewest rushing yards allowed. This is thanks to a very strong defensive line, lead by junior Cortez Broughton, who we will touch on later.
Broughton, Kimoni Fintz, Bryan Wright, Marquise Copeland and Michael Pitts have all combined for 48.5 tackles for loss, making the UC defensive line one of the best in the country, outside of Clemson and Alabama.
2. Michael Warren
Cincinnati's offense has improved immensely from 2017 to 2018, and much of that is thanks to the added explosiveness at the tailback position. Michael Warren has taken advantage of his increased role this season, as he has 1,163 yards and a whopping 17 rushing touchdowns on the season. Warren's 17 end zone trips are the fifth most in the country.
The sophomore from Toledo, Ohio was just a three-star prospect, but many scouting reports underestimated his big play ability. Warren has the ability to get to the second and third level with ease, as he has 7 games where his longest rush was over 20 yards.
A play that showcases Warren's explosive ability is his 81 yard run against Tulane. Warren made two defenders miss with back jukes, then found the open field to complete the touchdown run.
“He’s got good quickness, good speed, bigger back,” Bud Foster said. “Runs behind his pads with a lot of power. He catches the ball out of the backfield. Complete back. He’ll rush for 1,200 yards. I think he’s an extremely talented and one of the better backs we’ve seen."( Roanoke Times)
3. The Freshman Phenom
Many though Cincinnati's offense would look pedestrian like it did in 2017, especially since they were bringing in a newcomer at quarterback. While starting a redshirt freshaman quarterback doesn't seem ideal, both Virginia Tech and Cincinnati have found success in doing so.
QB Desmond Ridder is having a similar season to Josh Jackson's 2017 campaign. The freshman from Louisville, KY is known for his dual-threat ability, as Rider has almost 2400 yards passing and over 500 yards rushing. Also like Jackson, Rider is a good decision maker, as he has just five interceptions on the season thus far.
Coming out of high school, Ridder was not highly touted, but he knew exactly where he wanted to go. He chose Cincinnati almost instantly, as the Bearcats wound up being the only team to give him an offer. Despite receiving the offer from Tommy Tuberville, Ridder chose to continue his commitment after Tuberville was fired and Fickell became the head coach.
Fickell had many good things to say about Rider before the season even began.
“To me, the quarterback is not just about the guy that throws the football the best, the guy who knows the offense the best. No, the guy who can truly make everybody around him better. How does he do that? His approach to every single thing he does, whether it’s a Monday practice, a Tuesday practice, taking the field on Saturday, how you handle a bad play, a negative play, an interception. All of those things go into factoring who the quarterback is and how he handles it, how the guys around him are going to react and respond.” (The Athletic)
Ridder's favorite target is Khalil Lewis, who has 768 yards and 9 touchdowns on the season. Without question, these will be good reps for the youngsters on the Virginia Tech defense.
4. Key Player: Cortez Broughton
Few defensive players fill up the stat sheet quite like DT Cortez Broughton, who leads the team with 18.5 tackles for loss. Broughton also has 7.5 sacks and 5 pass deflections, which means he has the ability to get in the quarterback's face.
The senior from Kathleen, NJ has rebounded incredibly from a disappointing 2017 in which he only got 12 tackles on the season. Broughton made Second-Team All-AAC in 2016, and unsurprisingly, he made First-team all AAC this season.
Another fun fact about Broughton: he played on the Warner Robins All-Stars that reached the 2009 Little League World Series elimination round.
This will be a good final test for Virginia Tech guard Kyle Chung as a matchup that pro scouts will have an eye on.
5. The Kicking Woes
Usually when a running back has almost 20 touchdowns, and a quarterback has over 20 touchdowns, one would think such offense would have a great red zone efficiency. Oddly, that is not the case for Cincinnati.
The Bearcats rank 110th in red zone scoring. The reason why: the kicking game. The Bearcats have a freshman kicker in Cole Smith, who has struggled thus far in his first season.
Smith has made just 5 of 12 field goals this season, and is 0-4 from 30-39 yards away. He has also missed 2 extra points on the season.
Virginia Tech's defense may bend at times against the explosive Bearcat offense. It will be crucial for Caleb Farley and the Hokies' DBs to make tackles down the field, because if they do so, they have a good chance of not breaking.
Beamer Ball may come into play as well, as the Hokies have two blocked kicks on the season.
Photo Credit: Jake Roth
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