It may just feel like another game for the Ohio State Buckeyes, but this game is a big one for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Luke Fickell, a former player, assistant coach and interim head coach for the Bucks, is running the UC program—and has the squad looking better and better over his three years in charge.
But coaches alone can’t win football games. Solid performances across the board wins games. And for the Bearcats to escape Columbus, Ohio, with a win on Saturday, they’ll need solid performances from every single unit. But most importantly, they foundation in which UC builds their game plan needs to be rooted in a solid performance from sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder.
In the Week 1 home showing against UCLA, Ridder did enough to guide his team to victory. However, a repeat performance against Ohio State may be enough to keep the Bearcat faithful in attendance to at least the third quarter. While the Louisville, Ky., native threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-36 passing, a costly interception in the Bruins endzone gave the visitors life. For the Bearcats to win, they’ll need a few TDs from the passing game, and mistakes to be kept to an absolute minimum—preferably zero.
Additionally, knowing when to abandon plays will be part of a success strategy. Playing hero hasn’t boded well for recent OSU opponents. Last season, this was seen in the Minnesota, Nebraska and Maryland games, where inexperience QBs and personnel tried to make that game changing play, only to have it backfire. Adrian Martinez had a costly turnover for Nebraska; and against Maryland, an early turnover proved to be costly in the long run. If the receivers/pass isn’t there, Ridder’s judgment to throw the ball away versus forcing the throw will be one of the key factors into whether or not the Bearcats pull off the win. The signal-caller is going to face pressure, especially from Chase Young. That’s a given. But does he take a sack instead of chucking up a throw? Does he throw the ball away when on the run? And what happens on the blitz? If Jeffrey Okudah or Malik Harrison are brought in to steamroll past the offensive line, what decision does Ridder make in those all important seconds?
If he can make good judgment calls, then the next part of the upset checklist comes down to wide receiver reliance. Tight end Josiah Deguara is a Mackey Award (award given to best TE in the country) watch list member and one of the key receiving targets. Deguara is on a 14-game reception streak, and it’s a given that he’s gonna get some targets on Saturday. Against UCLA, five passes from Ridder went to Deguara, with four of them being caught; those four receptions were converted into 53 yards, the second most amongst UC receivers. Making sure Deguara is a viable threat against the OSU defense is critical, especially given what Fickell has said about the TE:
To see Josiah Deguara run 60 or so yards, never give up, get a guy down and give us the opportunity to not lose complete momentum of the entire game. That’s what we pride ourselves on.
If there’s an over reliance on getting Deguara the ball, that’s a good way to create situations where there’s double coverage or turnovers.
Look at what happened last weekend with Florida Atlantic. The Owls go-to offensive target was tight end Harrison Bryant, and the Buckeyes stuffed him when Chris Robison tried to get him the ball. Eleven targets were made to the TE, with only six of those being caught. Now, Bryant led the receiving game for FAU with 79 yards, but his two targets in the first quarter — arguably the only quarter where OSU looked close to firing on all cylinders — fell incomplete. Bryant made his catches in the final three quarters, a time where the game was all but wrapped up.
There’s options on the receiving end outside of Deguara, and I would even say there’s some talented dudes that can catch the ball. Senior Rashad Medaris is one of those dudes. In these games (i.e., the big ones) it comes down to experience. More experience you have, the better, theoretically, you respond to the pressure. Medaris has played in games against Michigan, Virginia Tech, and UCLA (twice). That’s a good amount of quality opponents, and in three of those games, Cincinnati won. Ridder needs to get the ball to Medaris, too, and more so than the two catches for 23 yards last week. While Alec Pierce led the Bearcats with 59 yards receiving, I highly doubt that another 52-yard strike between the QB and WR will take place. Chunk passing plays will come at a premium, so the short yardage completions will be what keeps UC afloat.
Again, Ridder is the kryptonite to Ohio State’s defense. The potency, though, is dictated on whether or not the rest of the team carries their own weight. On the offense, the graduate starters in Morgan James and Chris Ferguson need to play well on the right side; and on the left side, the underclassman (notably the freshmans) need to play with purpose. If that happens, then Michael Warren and the rest of the running backs can pick up a few yards every now and then, that’ll lead to the passing game being developed. And the receivers have to make the tough catches against a defensive back unit that, arguably, is the real “Defensive Back University.” Notice how a lot of things have to go right on one side of the ball just for the Bearcats to have a fighting chance against the Buckeyes? That’s the breaks, though. Ohio State is a college football goliath, and in order to slay goliath, you need out-of-your-mind performances from everyone.
But for UC, the biggest offensive performance needs to come from their sophomore QB.