Alex Frank | Sports Director
The Cincinnati Bearcats football team returns home to Nippert Stadium to close out its 2018 regular season schedule against the East Carolina Pirates Friday at 3:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
Cincinnati is coming off a tough 38-13 loss at Central Florida last Saturday, a game that was nationally televised on ABC in prime time and a game that was for first place in the East Division of the American Athletic Conference.
“It’s disappointing,” head coach Luke Fickell said. “Disappointing in a lot of phases, not just that you lost the game but at this point the way we handled the pressure a little with how we played. We got beat in all three phases of the game. If you’re going to play the champs you’re going to play the best, I think what we didn’t do was handle some of the punches and the shots they gave us.”
The Bearcats did throw the first punch in the game last Saturday with a fumble recovery in the end zone for an early 6-0 lead, but the Knights closed the first half with 21 unanswered points unleashing their vaunted up-tempo offense.
Despite numerous chances to get back in the game, the Bearcats could not overcome three lost fumbles and their chance of competing for a conference championship was eliminated.
“The key now is we got to move on,” Fickell said. “This is a big week for us, for our program. The ability for us to kind of shift gears and take a devastating loss, lose an opportunity to play for a championship and all the things we had talked about and then refocus ourselves and understand that it’s a short week.
“This week is all about a chance for us to make history for our seniors and really for our program to be able take one of these big shots and big punches and be able to come back. We pride ourselves on the ability to handle adversity and respond well in all phases.”
What’s at stake Friday
The Bearcats have an opportunity to become the seventh team in UC football history to reach 10 wins, and they can do it on Senior Day as 15 Bearcats will be playing their final game at Nippert Stadium.
“They mean a lot obviously,” Fickell said. “You get the experiences of seeing a guy change and I don’t just mean they changed in one year but their ability to effect a culture. Really when you look back at it you see some growth and their ability to how these guys played their best football their senior year but also how they really helped change the locker room”
Five of Cincinnati’s six 10-wins season have come since 2007, with their last coming in 2012.
Cincinnati now looks to finish this regular-season 10-2 after back-to-back 4-8 seasons and send the seniors off the right way.
“A lot of times people don’t know what you’ve really been through,” senior defensive tackle Cortez Broughton said. “But at the same time deep down you know.”
Broughton is one of several seniors on a defensive line including Kimoni Fitz, Kevin Mouhon and Marquis Copeland who went through the two down years.
They play one side of the ball for a program that prides themselves on being a line-driven program.
Over half of the seniors on Cincinnati play on either the offensive or defensive line.
“Those guys are the strength and core of who we are,” Fickell said. “The development of those guys that are behind them is really going to be what the future is all about. Once we get ourselves into bowl prep and things like that, there’s going to be a lot of emphasis put in those areas because you set these standards and this expectation.”
The difference a year can make
Last year the Bearcats were pummeled by the Pirates 48-20 in Greenville, North Carolina.
A big reason for that loss was then East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew threw for 444 yards and four touchdowns, including two to wide receiver Trevon Brown who had 270 receiving yards on the day.
Brown returned this season, but Minshew transferred to Washington State.
East Carolina is now led by freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers, who was last week’s AAC Offensive Player of the Week after he threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 130 yards and a score in a 55-21 win over UConn.
“I think they’re pretty explosive [on offense]” Fickell said. “They’ll have some momentum and some energy. They’ve played really well I think in the last five or so games, you know offensively especially.
“From last year to this year, I know it was one of the worst feelings we’ve had, probably the worst game we played the entire season last year. That sticks open in a lot of our minds and say hey we want to erase that feeling. We got to do that on Friday.”
Here Luke Fickell talk about the change at QB for ECU from last year to this year ahead of Friday’s matchup. pic.twitter.com/N6CLdtwgoi
— Alex Frank (@alexcincy) November 20, 2018
Friday’s game will get underway at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.