The No. 20-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats will try to stay unbeaten in American Athletic Conference action when they travel to Raymond James Stadium for a matchup against the South Florida Bulls on Saturday night.
After losing two of their final three games, South Florida comes in with a 4-5 overall record and a 2-3 mark in AAC play. Barring a meltdown over the final three weeks of the season, Cincinnati appears poised to host the AAC Championship Game and play in the Cotton Bowl. The Bearcats (8-1, 5-0 AAC) can punch their ticket to the conference championship game with a win next week at home against Temple. Will Cincinnati get caught looking ahead or will they take care of business on the road against USF on Saturday night?
Cincinnati cruised to a 48-3 victory at home over UConn last week to remain undefeated in conference play. Desmond Ridder completed 13-of-23 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns while Gerrid Doaks took his 13 carries for 123 yards and a score to help the Wildcats improve to 5-0 in the AAC standings. The victory marked another impressive outing by the Bearcats’ defense, which limited the Huskies to only 218 yards of total offense, including a 3-for-19 mark on 3rd and 4th-down conversions.
South Florida was unable to build on their momentum last week, losing at home to Temple 17-7. Freshman signal-caller Jordan McCloud threw for 225 yards and a touchdown but two costly fumbles, including one that was returned for a touchdown, ultimately cost the Bulls. South Florida was dominated at the line of scrimmage all night. The Bulls mustered just 61 yards on the ground while averaging only 1.6 yards per attempt and the offensive line gave up a whopping nine sacks on the night, as USF lost for the second time in three games.
Running game opening things up for RidderAfter a bit of a rocky start, Ridder is quietly enjoying a strong sophomore campaign. The 6-foot-4 signal-caller has thrown for 1,696 yards, 17 touchdowns, and seven interceptions this season while adding 417 rushing yards and a score on the ground with his legs. Ridder has been more dangerous as a runner in recent weeks, racking up 215 rushing yards over the last two games.
The combination of Doaks and fellow junior Michael Warren II has helped make life easier on Ridder. Doaks has emerged as a viable threat out of the backfield in recent weeks. After compiling just 14 combined touches against Houston, UCF, and Marshall, Doaks has earned a greater share of the workload at running back by compiling 253 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries (6.49 yards per carry). Meanwhile, Warren leads the team in rushing with 699 yards and nine touchdowns after rushing for 1,329 yards and 19 scores a year ago.
On defense, Cincinnati enters allowing only 21.0 points and 363.2 yards of total offense per game. The Bearcats defense is coming off another strong performance last week, forcing four turnovers and notching three sacks to stifle UCF’s offense.
One potential looming distraction for the Bearcats will be the future of head coach Luke Fickell, who is expected to have his name mentioned for several head coaching vacancies in the offseason. Fickell is an impressive 20-3 since coming to Cincinnati at the start of the 2018 season and has been recently linked to USC, who just nabbed Cincinnati’s AD Mike Bohn.
Strong on the hot seat but unlikely to be bought outEver since South Florida left two timeouts on the board in their loss to Temple, media pundits have started to name USF head coach Charlie Strong everything from a poor clock manager to a quitter. While Strong lamented that USF “will never give up on a game”, the Bulls appeared to wave the white flag on their final drive. The justification from Strong was that the team would use their timeouts once they crossed midfield but USF barely emerged from their own territory before coming up short on a 4th-and-14 to end the game.
Set to make $5 million this season, Strong is among the highest-paid coaches in college football. Following the Bulls’ most recent defeat to Temple, USF fans were seen chanting “Fire Charlie” from the student section as time ran out. While Strong has been one of the coaches on the proverbial hot seat this season, he’s unlikely to be fired thanks to a buyout that would likely cost USF between $1.7 and $2 million. That money could go a long way towards the school’s proposed $40-million indoor practice facility.
Generating offense has been an issue for the Bulls this season. South Florida comes into the week scoring 24.0 points per game, which ranks 99th in the nation, but that number drops down to 20.1 points per game versus FBS-opponents. They come in averaging only 345.8 yards of total offense per game, which ranks 106th in the country. Part of the problem has been spotty play by the offensive line, which ranks 127th in sacks allowed per game (4.22) and gave up nine sacks in last week’s loss to Temple.
That’s put a lot of extra pressure on the freshman McCloud, who has thrown for 1,001 yards, 11 touchdowns, and six interceptions so far this season. The true freshman has excelled in recent weeks, throwing for a combined 327 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions during that span.
On defense, USF has surrendered 27.1 points and 377.8 yards of total offense per game, including 194 yards per game on the ground (98th in FBS).
- Bearcats are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games after accumulating more than 200 yards rushing in their previous game.
- Bearcats are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games overall.
- Bearcats are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 games following a straight up win of more than 20 points.
- Bulls are 5-13 ATS in their last 18 conference games.
- Bulls are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 home games.
- Bulls are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 home games vs. a team with a winning road record.