Alex Frank | Sports Director
Rivalry games are as hard-nosed as any game, especially when Mother Nature becomes a factor.
That was the case on a rain-soaked night Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium when the University of Cincinnati Bearcats and Miami (OH) University Redhawks met for the 123rd Battle for the Victory Bell.
“[I’m] 290 pounds,” senior defensive tackle Cortez Broughton said. “I like it when it rains. I love it when it rains. A little breeze, it’s perfect.”
Broughton’s four solo tackles led the team and his six total played a large role in Cincinnati’s 21-0 win, their 13th straight win in the Victory Bell series and lifting them to their first 2-0 start since 2016.
“Very [significant]” Broughton said. “All my five years being here, it feels good to go out with a bang. It was a team game out there today. Defensively we had a couple problems missing a couple tackles, but just staying stout. Offensively just putting the ball in the end zone, staying behind our o-line and trusting them.”
In those conditions running the ball and sometimes delivering a big hit early are good ways to swing momentum in your favor, the latter of which occurred in the first quarter.
Sophomore safety James Wiggins, who was named to national college football writer Bruce Feldman’s annual Top 50 college football freak’s list for The Athletic, sniffed out a flare pass from Miami’s senior quarterback Gus Ragland and leveled fifth-year senior running back Kenny Young for a four-yard loss following the catch.
Wiggins wasn’t the only one unleashing the tenacity on defense, which was evident by the high energy on the Bearcats bench throughout the entire game.
“There’s a completely different feel,” Fickell said. “I mean that in a sense that last year was almost sometimes a relief that you won a football game. There definitely is a different feel and I think these guys are starting to feel that not just in the locker room but they’re gaining a lot of confidence in what it is they can do.”
After winning just four games last year, including two by just a single point, the Bearcats already now have half that total just two games into Fickell’s second year.
Looking to extend their 12-game winning streak over Miami, sophomore running back Michael Warren II picked up right where he left off from his three-touchdown performance at UCLA by rushing for two touchdowns inside the five-yard line.
With senior running back Gerrid Doaks still nursing a groin injury, Warren has carried a big load for the Cincinnati offense with 64 combined carries in the first two games.
“It’s all how you go about it week-to-week,” Warren said. “Last week I had 35 carries. This week I knew it was going to be the same thing especially with the rain. I knew they were going to load the box and it’s all a mindset. You prepare in practice and that’s what I’ve been preparing for.”
After coming in relief of senior quarterback Hayden Moore at UCLA, freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder became the de facto lead runner for the Bearcats as he led the team with 100 net yards rushing.
His 39-yard run midway through the first quarter helped set up the first of Warren’s two scores.
Despite throwing for just 45 yards, nine of them went for his first collegiate touchdown pass to junior tight end Josiah Deguara midway through the fourth quarter, effectively icing the game at 21-0.
“He does [give us the ability to run the ball]” Fickell said. “Not just the ability to run the football, guys are going to load the box against our running back’s ability to have a little space sometimes too because guys have to honor it.”
Miami’s offense, on the other hand, took a seemingly conservative approach against the tenacious Cincinnati defense.
Ragland checked down multiple passes which occasionally moved the chains but didn’t gain huge chunks of yardage between the twenties.
“Everybody has stuff to be aggressive, it’s just do you really have the confidence to be in a game like this,” Fickell said. “The confidence that you build and the belief you build in what those guys can do allows you to do that more, to be more aggressive, to call those things even in these types of situations.”
After saying at his weekly press conference earlier in the week that he thought Cincinnati had been outplayed by Miami in each of the past five seasons, it was evident from the beginning that Cincinnati was in total control of this game and outplaying the Redhawks in everything from running the ball to the enthusiasm on the bench.
Cincinnati certainly didn’t show the pressure of defending their winning streak in the rivalry and they were backed by a huge crowd on the south side of the stadium for much of the first half, adding to their energy on the sideline and on the field.
The Bearcats will be back in historic Nippert Stadium next Saturday at 7 p.m. against Alabama A&M University.