After dominating the University of Connecticut (UConn) on homecoming last week, the No. 17 University of Cincinnati football team will return to action Saturday evening in Tampa, Fla. at the University of South Florida (USF).
UC is playing another team with a sub-.500 record, as the Bulls are 4-5, 2-3 American Athletic Conference (AAC). However, USF is better than its record. The Bulls haven’t beaten a ranked team but defeated East Carolina by 25 points. UC needed a last second game-winning field goal to beat East Carolina Nov. 2.
Below are three keys and a prediction for Saturday’s game:
Establish the run early
UC head coach Luke Fickell said running back Michael Warren II is in for a big finish to the season, and he has an intriguing matchup against a rush defense that allows 194 rushing yards per game.
Warren has trucked his way into the endzone five time the last two games, while junior Gerrid Doaks provided an insurance blanket in the backfield with a season-high 123 rushing yards against UConn last week.
USF is at the top of the conference in passing defense (174.3 yards per game), which gives UC a reason to stay on the ground. Bearcat quarterback Desmond Ridder has back-to-back games with at least 90 rushing yards, so this is a good opportunity for him to utilize the dual-threat abilities.
Limit damage in the red zone
Since conference play began Oct. 4, the Bearcats has done an exceptional job limiting the damage when its opponents enter the red zone, as teams have scored more field goals (10) than touchdowns (7).
UC was able to hold East Carolina to a field goal in the fourth quarter that enabled the Bearcats to score on the ensuing drive, tie the game and force overtime.
Load the box
In what was initially a surprise in their first few games, the Bearcats’ defensive line has thrived in getting to the quarterback, and it has become a reoccurring theme.
UC wasn’t able to record a sack against East Carolina, which may have had an effect on the 46-43 score, but when they’re in a groove they’re hard to stop.
The Bearcats have recorded at least two sacks in five games and could be in for a big day, as USF has surrendered 28 sacks this season — nine more than any other AAC team. Loading the box will shadow USF’s rushing attack and frustrate a quarterback, which could force mistakes.
Score prediction: UC 30, USF 27
UC hasn’t won at USF since 2011 and it’ll be another battle from start to finish. The defense got its wake up call against East Carolina after forcing 14 turnovers the three games leading up to that matchup. UC uses its late game heroics to win its eighth straight game after Ridder finds senior tight end Josiah Deguara for a touchdown in the final minutes.