Alex Frank | Sports Director
Off to their best start since 2012, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team returns to Nippert Stadium Saturday for the annual Homecoming game against the Tulane University Green Wave.
“We haven’t had this since I’ve been here,” head coach Luke Fickell said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “You got to be able to handle some of these positive things and what’s being set out around it, but when you look at the whole you’re seeing the growth and maturity-wise on the field which obviously translates off the field as well.”
The Bearcats also saw an increase in votes for the AP top 25 as their 35 votes left them just four spots behind No. 25 Oklahoma State, but whether this team deserves a spot in the top 25 is not a current concern of Fickell’s.
“Not something I spend a lot of time with,” Fickell said. “If we win three of four more games, I’ll worry about that. We’re where we are right now and that’s what we deserve. We deserve to be 5-0 and that’s where we are. There’s a lot of opportunities down this next six or seven-game stretch that we’ll have the opportunity to prove some things to some people outside here.”
Star on the Rise
Junior tight end Josiah Deguara has become an integral part of the Bearcats offense.
After combining for just 15 catches in his first two years, the Folsom, Calif. native leads the team in receptions (18), yards (247) and touchdowns (3) through the first five weeks.
“I think it’s just making the plays that have been thrown to me,” Deguara said on Tuesday. “Whenever the ball is thrown to me and whenever I’m able to make a play that’s just what I got to do.”
In Cincinnati’s 49-7 drubbing of UConn last week, Deguara set a career-high in receiving yards with 112.
Thirty-eight of those came on a touchdown on the second play of the third quarter, which was the longest reception of his career.
That score was his third in the Bearcats previous four games, and his ability to run seam routes and get to the edge has immensely helped redshirt-freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder.
“I think we have [established a strong connection]” Deguara said. “The whole offense is clicking so being able to have that momentum going into the next few games after this one is really big for us and I think that’s just the work we put in the offseason.”
Respect Your Opponent
Before the next few games Deguara was referring to, the Bearcats will face a Tulane team Saturday coming off a stunning, and impressive, upset win over Memphis last week.
Led by two rushing touchdowns each from running backs Darius Bradwell (Jr.) and Corey Dauphine (R-Jr.), last Friday’s win marked the 32nd straight game that the Green Wave accumulated 100 rushing yards.
“Fill up the gaps [is the plan to limit their run production]” Fickell said. “They have a really good scheme, they’ll run the option. I think the unique thing that they got is some of the balance in the RPO’s (run-pass options) that’s still a run. I think they do a great job of pulling things, making some plays down field throwing the football and they also got a run game far better I think than what they had last year.”
In addition to the running game, Tulane’s offense is anchored by redshirt-senior quarterback Jonathan Banks who, despite completing barely over 50 percent of his passes, has thrown for five touchdowns to only a single interception.
The Green Wave defense also slowed down one of the most prolific offenses in football in Memphis by sacking quarterback Brady White seven times.
“It’s a completely different team than what I saw last year,” Fickell said. “Regardless of what their record is, they just beat a Memphis team that was seven points away from beating UCF in the championship game last year. The way they play, the aggressive nature that they play with, the attitude they play with. It’s different than what I saw last year.”
Outside of getting demolished 49-6 at Ohio State on Sept. 22, Tulane has either won convincingly or been in every one of the five games they have played this season.
Cincinnati, though, could make it very difficult for them to close out Saturday’s game considering the Bearcats have outscored opponents 50-3 this season in the fourth quarter.
Even in their blowout win at UConn last week, the Bearcats, especially the younger players, kept playing at full speed.
“When you get in those situations, I think it applies pressure on those young guys going into the game,” Fickell said. “Even as coaches you get a little greedy and think ‘we expect you to step in there and do the things that the first guys did.’ It’s not just them playing, it’s the pressure that hopefully, even though the score is what it is, it’s the pressure that they feel from even their own teammates to not let them down.”
Saturday’s game will get underway at noon and will be televised on ESPNU.