Alex Frank | Sports Director
After two straight seasons finishing 4-8, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team has equaled that win total through its first four games this year.
The Bearcats swept the nonconference portion of their schedule, including two wins against UCLA and Miami (OH) to start the season, and, as a result, enter their first American Athletic Conference game at UConn undefeated.
“The season really starts now,” head coach Luke Fickell said at his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon. “That’ll be the message to our entire team; the first week of conference play and we go on the road. This is when it really begins. We got a business trip to get prepared for this week, obviously a great opponent. You really got to be ready for conference play, and that’s where we are right now.”
The Bearcats are also starting to get national recognition as they received ten votes for the AP top 25 rankings this week, the first time receiving votes since Sept. 11, 2016.
“Your ability to handle some of those positive things and some of those praises and some of that attention, you know what maybe affected us a little last week,” Fickell said. “Sometimes some of those things for the first time have an effect on you. I tend not to listen to it, but I guess I got to do a better job because if it’s out there I know I got to make sure I address it with our team. We’ll all get what we deserve as long as we take care of our stuff on the football field.”
Cincinnati’s opponent Saturday is the UConn Huskies, who will enter Saturday with a 1-3 record coming off a 51-21 defeat to Syracuse last week.
Despite their record and defense allowing 664 yards per game, Fickell said he truly believes the Huskies are a lot better than what their results have shown.
He said they have gone against up some of the nation’s better offensive teams in UCF, Boise State and Syracuse, which could explain why they have been outscored a combined 169-45 in those three losses.
Offensively, the Huskies are averaging over 400 yards a game with most of the yards coming from dynamic senior quarterback David Pindell.
The Columbia, Md. native, and former Lackawanna College (Scranton, Pa.) QB, is the only player in the AAC currently averaging 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing on the season.
Pindell was 27-51 with 273 yards and a touchdown as well as 111 rushing yards in last year’s season finale at Cincinnati, a game won by the Bearcats 22-21.
Fickell said though, he’s not the same quarterback this year that his team faced last year.
“[He] can make everybody around him better,” Fickell said. “Whether it’s just your offense, he can make your defense better too with the confidence that he can generate if he gets on a roll. I think he’s going to pose a lot of issues for us.”
What’s also not the same from last year, in a much-improved way, is the Bearcats defense.
After giving up 429 yards a game last year, ranking among the worst teams in the AAC in that category, Cincinnati leads the conference through four weeks this year allowing an average of only 274.5 yards per game.
“It’s just the brotherhood that we got [that’s the difference]” sophomore safety James Wiggins said. “Everybody trusting each other, and we always going to grind with each other.”
Wiggins has been one of the defense’s most outstanding players through the first four games of the year with two interceptions, including one last week at the 1-yard line that helped preserve a 34-30 come-from-behind victory against Ohio.
The Miami, Fla. native was nationally recognized in the preseason when he was named to national college football writer Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” written for The Athletic, coming in at No. 33 out of the 50 total named to the list.
“I did not know [about that when that came out]” Wiggins said. “I was just excited that ‘alright everybody knows what type of strength I got and all that good stuff.’ It doesn’t really mean that much because I’m not a showboat guy, but just to know I’m getting recognized is a good feeling.”
Despite playing in 10 games last year as a freshman Wiggins only recorded a single tackle, which came against UConn.
Tackling and tracking are what Fickell said will be what the Bearcats have to do to stop Pindell and the Huskies offense.
“There’s no special recipe,” Fickell said. “He’s going to have his plays, he’s going to make some plays. We got to do a good job not getting frustrated, not getting flustered, continue to be aggressive and be smart.”
Cincinnati’s improved defense should immensely help them be much more competitive against an American Athletic Conference with a great overall depth of offensive talent, something that surprised Fickell in his first year in 2017.
“It’s week-to-week,” Fickell said. “I think that’s one of the things why we adjusted how we play a little bit defensively because of what we truly needed to do in the offseason to be successful. Week-to-week there’s a new challenge.”
Saturday’s game from Storrs, Ct. will get underway at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.