Another Saturday, another scare for Bearcat football fans everywhere. The University of Cincinnati (UC) football team has now defeated the University of South Florida (USF) and Southern Methodist University (SMU) by a combined six points over the last two games, a margin that is substantially lower than expected.
Without a doubt, the spread of talent across both sides of the ball for the Bearcats outweighs that of USF and SMU. The final scores, however, would fool anyone unfamiliar with the American Athletic Conference (AAC) teams.
UC's lack of discipline has been mind-boggling up to this point. With the first half of the regular season behind us, no excuses can be made for the Bearcats' consistent penalty woes. The red and black committed a season-high 14 penalties for 128 yards against SMU and now average 9.57 penalties per game, grouping them among the most undisciplined teams in the country.
The Bearcats' struggles have also been a product of decreased offensive efficiency. UC averaged over 44 points per game in their first four games, with a victory margin of 22 points. Since entering conference play in week five, the Bearcats have averaged 29.3 points per game and an average victory margin of just 5.3 points.
UC quarterback Ben Bryant has thrown four touchdowns and three interceptions in the three AAC games thus far. Bryant threw 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in the first four games of the regular season.
The silver lining for the Bearcats' offense over the past few weeks has been the breakout of senior running back Charles McClelland. The Georgia native, who has been with UC since 2018, has posted back-to-back games with 100-plus rushing yards and three scores in that span.
After suffering season-ending injuries in both 2019 and 2020, McClelland's bounce back has been monumental for the Bearcats and has been their offensive catalyst for much of the season. The senior has racked up 631 rushing yards on 92 attempts through seven games, good for 35th in the nation. McClelland's 6.86 yards per attempt is the fifth-best mark in the country.
What does this mean exactly? It means it's time to let go of the leash and give McClelland more than his current 13.1 rush attempts per game. While fellow running back Corey Kiner has scored in all but two games this year, McClelland has shifted into a gear that no other back on UC's roster has been able to match.
The remaining conference schedule will only prove to be more difficult as UC will travel to Orlando this week to take on the University of Central Florida Knights. The 5-2 Knights are very much still in contention for the AAC title despite losing to East Carolina University just last week. The Bearcats will also take on No. 23 Tulane at home in the last week of the regular season. Tulane currently sits atop the AAC rankings with a 4-0 record in conference play.
The formula for head coach Luke Fickell and company shouldn't stray too far from the basics as the second half of the year quickly progresses: ride the hot hand and feed your breakout star. Expect to hear McClelland's name called even more than it already has, as bowl season is right around the corner.