Alex Frank | Sports Director
After two straight 4-8 seasons, the 2018 University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team will look to make a big statement Saturday night when they take on the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins in the greatest venue in college football; the Rose Bowl.
The opportunity to play in that kind of venue in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN has second-year head coach Luke Fickell excited for not just Cincinnati but the entire American Athletic Conference.
“I know our conference is probably going to up it and promote it,” Fickell said Tuesday afternoon at his weekly press conference. “That’s what we want to be able to do is play against the other, so to speak, big-timers and play on those types of stages and make those types of statements for the league.”
Fickell himself has had past success against the Pacific Athletic Conference (Pac12) as the former defensive coordinator for The Ohio State University.
He slowed down the Marcus Mariota-led University of Oregon Ducks in the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship and shut down Oregon’s offense in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day in 2010 when the Ducks were led by Fickell’s counterpart on Saturday night; Chip Kelly whose offense will likely present an up-tempo offense on Saturday night.
“We looked at a lot of game tape [from the 96th Rose Bowl and Kelly’s last year at Oregon]” Fickell said. “It’s on us as coaches to kind of limit it down and say ‘what are the things we have to know how to be able to stop and make sure our guys are confident and have the ability to do it and make adjustments and changes based on things that you’re going to be getting?’”
Some adjustments that potentially could be made on Saturday is if UCLA puts multiple quarterbacks at different points in the game.
Former University of Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who transferred to UCLA in April for his final season of eligibility, threw for two touchdowns and achieved a rating of 145.4 in a 36-14 Wolverines win over the Bearcats last year.
Despite the multiple quarterbacks the Bruins may throw at the Cincinnati defense, Fickell said that what makes Kelly so good is that it doesn’t matter who his quarterback is and what they do.
“The makings of a good program and a good coach is they have a system of plays,” Fickell said. “You’re still going to see the same system, you’re still going to see the base of the same things. That’s why for us defensively it’s just to understand who’s behind center and understand what they do well.”
The starting quarterback for the Bearcats also remains a mystery with Fickell having said multiple times that he won’t name who it will be and that it won’t be known until the offense takes the team for the first time on Saturday.
While Fickell acknowledged everything important a quarterback is to a football team, he put the attention on the offensive line to try and help out whoever takes the field at quarterback for Cincinnati.
“Everything is designed to take advantage of him, to intimidate him, do things to mess with him,” Fickell said about the quarterback. “That’s why we try to put a focus on ‘hey how do we, everyone around him, help the quarterback?’ Everything’s just not on you. We’re going to pile stuff on the guys up front and go from there.”
The offensive line, as well as the defensive line, is what Fickell believes is going to be the team’s strength in order for them to have the season they want to have and that they pride themselves in being a program driven by just that.
Anchoring this year’s offensive line will be sixth-year veteran Garrett Campbell.
The former St. Xavier Bomber missed his first two seasons at Cincinnati because of injuries but was given a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and he started all 12 games at left guard last year.
Campbell acknowledged Tuesday that he knows what it’s like to be a part of a championship-caliber team and the common bond it must have, having been a member of Cincinnati’s 2014 conference championship team.
Despite having been a part of that and now being a captain on the team, it’s Campbell’s level head and even-keeled personality that makes him stand out.
“I try to stay as grounded as I can,” Campbell said. “I’m not going to stop working. I’m not going to stop giving it my all. I want to keep moving, I want to keep advancing, advancing myself.”
Staying grounded is helping Campbell approach the upcoming game at the Rose Bowl saying that it will all boil down to just getting out there on the field and doing your thing.
Fickell said that the coaching staff is going to take the team over to the venue on Friday night before Saturday night’s game kicks off at 7 p.m. E.T. (4 p.m. P.T.) on ESPN.