The RedHawks struggle on both ends as the #8 Bearcats snatch the Victory Bell for the 15th straight meeting.
Another year passes, and the Victory Bell doesn’t exchange sides. The antique hardware remains a staple in Cincinnati’s trophy case, as it has been labeled Bearcat property for 15 consecutive meetings. Out of all the Cincinnati teams to defeat Miami (OH) over the last decade and a half, this one is arguably the most talented.
Gifted with a No. 8 preseason ranking, the Bearcats lived up to that number and effectively ended Saturday’s game after three quick scoring possessions in the first quarter. Cincinnati pummeled Miami, 49-14, and all 14 RedHawk points transpired in the final four minutes of garbage time.
Here are five takeaways from the lopsided battle of the crosstown Ohio universities:
Cincinnati knew the deep ball would work
What was Miami’s greatest weakness in the 3-game 2020 campaign? Getting beat deep. Buffalo exploited that flaw to a T last November and posted 353 yards and four touchdowns on the RedHawks’ defensive backs. Luke Fickell clearly noticed that in the film room and two plays into the season, he sent wide receiver Tyler Scott on a deep post route. Scott blew past Miami’s cornerback playing zone at the sticks and cut upfield beyond the deep safety. It was an easy 81-yard touchdown pass for Desmond Ridder on his first throw since New Year’s Day.
Ridder never let up. He finished 20/25 with 295 yards and tied his personal-best with four touchdown passes. Openings were abundant downfield and four Cincinnati receivers averaged at least 14 yards per catch. The RedHawks finished 110th in pass defense last season, and it is still clear that deep coverage remains the primary blemish in this team’s abilities.
Miami isn’t the same without Gabbert
Not many quarterbacks are going to have stellar days against Cincinnati’s feisty secondary, but the poise and ball placement of starting quarterback Brett Gabbert was sorely missed Saturday. Per Mark Schmetzer, Gabbert suffered a knee injury in camp and was available in uniform, but the lack of practice forced the RedHawks to turn to backup quarterback A.J. Mayer.
Mayer was a serviceable backup when Gabbert went down in 2020, leading the RedHawks to a 38-31 victory over Ball State on the opening night of the season. But a 9-of-28 performance from the quarterback with an average of under four yards per attempt proved how desperately Miami needed Gabbert for this marquee matchup.
After leading the RedHawks to a MAC title in 2019, Gabbert’s completion percentage skyrocketed to 65.7 percent in his sophomore season. He averaged 11 yards per dropback and fired four touchdowns all without an interception. That type of accuracy will be needed as the RedHawks round out a difficult non-conference schedule featuring trips to Minnesota and Army.
Mozee is the answer to Miami’s running back needs
Miami never jump-started its running game in 2020. Not one player on the team amassed 100 rushing yards in the 3-game season. The RedHawks were without their primary halfbacks Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton, and critically needed a new No. 1 halfback. Bester and Shelton were slated to return to the lineup this season but neither back played Week 1.
Instead, Kansas State transfer Keyon Mozee got the bulk of the carries and he performed promisingly against one of the nation’s premier run-stopping units. Cincinnati held opponents to 3.2 yards per rush in 2020, ranking ninth in the country in containing the ground. Mozee surpassed that with 5.3 yards per carry Saturday, darting for a career-high 80 yards — more than double the rushing yards from his Kansas State tenure. Mozee hits gaps well and the offensive line did him favors with solid run blocking. When the defensive opposition deescalates from Cincinnati’s caliber, it’s hard not to see 100-yard games in his future.
Cincinnati is more adept offensively this year
Cincinnati built its AAC empire under Luke Fickell by means of powerful defensive play. Any offensive success paled in comparison, and that was evident to start the 2020 season. Cincinnati was plagued by offensive shortcomings and posted scores of 24-10 over Army and 28-7 over South Florida to start last year. But this time around, everything seemed more natural for Cincinnati’s offense.
It all started with Ridder, who enjoyed one of the best performances of his career. The play-calling certainly helped the fourth-year starter become comfortable in the pocket. Cincinnati’s route trees caused the Bearcats to frequently draw speed and size mismatches while also finding openings in Miami’s zone coverage. As a result, Ridder only tossed five throws that didn’t land in his receivers’ hands — compared to four passes which resulted in touchdowns. If he can deliver such performances consistently, the Bearcats may be situated in the top 10 for quite some time.
And in the running game, Jerome Ford picked up where he left off last season after strong runs in the AAC Championship and Peach Bowl. The Alabama transfer presented a nice burst of speed and shed tackles with ease, accruing 121 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries Saturday. Ridder also reminded Miami of his mobility on a 4th down in the second quarter, handling a zone read and sprinting 25 yards into the end zone. With five touchdowns before halftime, Bearcat fans could not have asked for a better offensive debut and that should settle some questions concerning if this team is well-rounded enough.