Alex Frank | Sports Director
For the first time since Oct. 2012, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team finds themselves in the AP Top 25 at No. 20 in the latest rankings.
That national recognition is a result of a 6-0 start that has been the highlight of an amazing turnaround in head coach Luke Fickell’s second year, but he acknowledged that having a number next to their name puts a bigger bullseye on their backs.
“It definitely does [add something to the other team]” Fickell said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “Being 6-0, whether you’re ranked whatever, still talked about as an undefeated team, it makes it that much more important for the other team as well. That’s different for us in a year-and-a-half.”
The other team this Saturday might be the Bearcats toughest opponent so far this season; the Temple Owls.
The undisputed strength of the Owls is their defense.
In each of their four wins this season, they have held their opponents to 18 points or less.
Last week’s win 24-17 win at Navy was the first time this season the Owls did not record a non-offensive touchdown, and they lead the FBS with five defensive touchdowns.
“Those things are created,” Fickell said. “Those things are not just something that just happens. They’ve also been opportunistic. They do play hard and they do run to the football. When that ball is on the ground, they make the plays, and they turn them into points.
“They’ve done a great job. They challenge you offensively. They’re going to play a bunch of man. They’re going to be on you. They’re not going to give the easy throws.”
Temple’s defense is highly ranked in several other defensive categories including No. 27 in total defense and fifth and No. 12 in passing and red zone defense respectively.
Much of their defensive success can be attributed to head coach Geoff Collins.
A former defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida, Collins came to Temple in Dec. 2016 with the title of “Minister of Mayhem.”
His workouts and practices include fire engines, Easter bunnies, national flags, water guns and more according to the Temple game notes produced by Temple Football.
Back to Football
The Bearcats were on a bye last week, which Fickell said allowed the players to clear themselves, relax and get away for a brief moment.
“The ability to kind of get away a little bit, kind of refresh your mind, your spirit a little bit,” Fickell said. “To come back in here on a Sunday night with a great attitude, go back out there to practice a little bit different on Monday and be able to attack this thing all forward.
“As coaches you got to do a good job making sure you’re balanced in what you’re doing, you’re not overdoing something, putting too much thought into different things and not adding a whole bunch of different things. Hopefully we did a good job. That was our plan.”
He also said, though, that the bye week got them out of routine and that they need to make sure they get back to the routines to what they do.
“I think for us to understand what we’re walking into to a very good football team that plays very physical,” Fickell said. “Those last five games they’ve played as good as anybody that I know we’ve played. Physically, it hasn’t been very good for us.”
Fickell was referring to the last four meetings between the Bearcats and the Owls, three of which were won by Temple including last year’s 35-24 victory in Cincinnati which was the first time Fickell faced Temple as the Bearcats head coach.
Senior running back Ryquell Armstead rushed for just 28 yards as a junior in last year’s game but is now the Owls’ lead running back and is eighth in program history in rushing yards and fourth with 27 career rushing touchdowns.
“I think they’re rooted in the things you want your program to be rooted in,” Fickell said. “They’re rooted in the positions where you need to be. At the running back position, I think that they’re rooted the right way.”
Saturday’s game from Philadelphia will get underway at noon and will be televised on ESPNU.