Alex Frank | Sports Director
I was trying to put together a column from Saturday night’s game down in Orlando and was really struggling to figure out what to say and what kind of angle to take.
The final score will say the Bearcats lost to the undefeated No. 11 Central Florida Knights 38-13, but I’m going to take you all beyond the end result.
This game did not feel like a blowout; Central Florida just made plays when they had to on defense and special teams.
What I saw Saturday night was a Bearcats team determined to show they could play with the Knights.
The Bearcats defense threw a nasty Nnati-like first punch less than five minutes into the game when junior linebacker Malik Clements came in on Knights junior quarterback McKenzie Milton’s blindside and jarred the ball loose.
Senior defensive end Kimoni Fitz pounced on it in the end zone to give the Bearcats a 6-0 lead and pump some serious confidence into the Bearcats defense.
Even though the Knights offense did get going, Cincinnati’s defense was still out there making critical stops and giving the offense opportunities to put points on the board.
To hold the Knights to just 21 points through two-and-a-half quarters after all the defensive struggles the Bearcats went through last year against them and virtually everybody other opponent just goes back to the point I’ve been making all year about the difference a year can make.
In 2017, the Bearcats were obliterated by Central Florida at Nippert Stadium in a rain-shortened game, 51-23.
Even though they lost by more than three scores this year on the road, this year’s game still showed how far they have come in year two under head coach Luke Fickell.
Saturday was also all about UCF.
They’ve been the talk of the College Football Playoff for the last two years and mainly this year as to whether or not they should be in it.
Saturday was finally the day they were given the opportunity to showcase themselves to the entire nation.
It started with College Gameday being live in Orlando, and Lee Corso, of course, choosing to dawn the gear of his hometown Knights.
That right there set the tone for the rest of the day, leading up to the game of the week on ABC.
The broadcast of the game was all about Central Florida in every facet: Milton, UCF holding the nation’s longest active winning streak, first-year head coach Josh Heupel and, of course, their chances of earning a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Sure the Knights lived up to the hype by putting together a very solid all-around performance for a win that, in my opinion, boosts their playoff chances, but Cincinnati held their own throughout the entire game.
Watching the game, though, it felt like the Bearcats were playing too conservatively.
I felt like redshirt-freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder wasn’t getting very many attempts to throw down the field, and that’s something opponents have to do to have any shot at taking down Central Florida.
There were some opportunities that Ridder missed, but most of the plays the Bearcats ran on offense were draw plays to either side of the offensive line and short-to-intermediate passes.
Running the ball does eat up the clock and winning the time of possession was one of my keys to the game, but the Bearcats needed to be more aggressive and take shots down the field.
The obvious way to beat a team like Central Florida is have the defense slow down the offense, but the defense can only do so much.
What makes a great football team, is for all facets to do their part and do it well, which the offense did not Saturday night.
I’m not saying the Bearcats are not a great team, but their offense did not help the defense out by being nearly as aggressive as Central Florida’s.
It didn’t help that sophomore running back Michael Warren II, who has been enjoying a record-setting season, was banged up for essentially the entire game.
That made things even more difficult for the Bearcats offense to move the ball against an opportunistic defense in Central Florida.
While the Bearcats hopes of playing for a conference championship may be gone, what’s not is the potential for a 10-win season.
Going from 4-8 in Fickell’s first year to double-digit wins in year two would be an amazing accomplishment for this young Bearcats team.
A win next Friday against East Carolina would also give the Bearcats an undefeated home record for 2018, their first time going undefeated at home since 2009 when they went undefeated in the regular season.
Friday’s game will get underway at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.