Alex Frank | Sports Director
The matchup: Cincinnati Bearcats (5-0, 1-0 AAC) vs. Tulane Green Wave (2-3, 1-0 AAC)
Kickoff: Saturday, noon at Nippert Stadium (40,000)
TV/Radio: ESPNU (Roy Philpott, Tom Ramsey)/102.7 WEBN-FM (Dan Hoard, Jim Kelly, Tony Pike)
Respecting Your Opponent
Tulane Running Game
In their upset win over Memphis last Friday, the favorites to win the West division of the American Athletic Conference, the Green Wave were paced by running backs Darius Bradwell (Jr.) and Corey Dauphine (R-Jr.) each finding the end zone twice. The former leads the team with 381 rushing yards while Dauphine is not far behind with 376 and has the edge in touchdowns 5-4. As a team, Tulane is averaging just over 200 rushing yards a game, including a season-high 318 against Memphis and will ride a streak of 32 straight games with 100 rushing yards into the Queen City on Saturday.
Tulane Passing Game
Redshirt-senior quarterback Jonathan Banks is in his second full season as the Green Wave’s starting gunslinger. He has put up pedestrian-numbers through the last two years, averaging under 200 passing yards a game and has only eclipsed the 200-yard mark five times in his 16 total starts. He is completing barely over 50 percent of his passes but leads the AAC in passing yards per completion at 16.12. Last year against Cincinnati, he was 17-24 for 196 yards.
Tulane Receiving Corps
Junior Darnell Mooney leads the Green Wave with 479 receiving yards and four touchdowns through the team’s first five games and his 95.8 receiving yards per game are second in the American Conference. Mooney led the team with 94 yards against Memphis and has racked up 70 yards or more in each of Tulane’s five games. He is supported by teammate Terren Encalde, who is 10th in the conference with 69 receiving yards per game and has 345 receiving yards overall on the season with two touchdowns.
The Green Wave’s defense is led by senior linebacker Zachary Harris who leads the team with 33 tackles, and his 7.8 tackles per game are ninth in the AAC. Cornerback Donnie Lewis Jr. made his 36th career start against Memphis, the most of any current defensive player, while Nickel Trice Barge made his fist career start last week. Defensive lineman Cameron Sample recorded two sacks last week, his second straight game with a sack. As a team, the Green Wave slowed down a Memphis offense that was averaging nearly 600 yards a game by holding them to just 277 total offensive yards and sacking quarterback Brady White seven times.
Tulane Special Teams
The Green Wave have only attempted three field goals through five games this season, but junior kicker Merek Glover is perfect on three field goal attempts with his longest coming from 40 yards. He is also 16 out of 17 on extra points. Senior Zachary Block is the primary man for both the punting and kickoffs for Tulane and has nine punts inside the 20-yard line and 12 touchbacks on 22 kickoffs through his first five games. Freshman Ryan Wright has also punted seven times but only has one inside the 20-yard line despite a 41.6 yards-per-punt average.
Cincinnati Running Game
Sophomore running back Michael Warren II became the lead back after senior Gerrid Doaks was injured before the season started, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunity. His 10 touchdowns are second in the Football Bowl Subdivision and his 108.2 rushing yards per game are third in the AAC and 18th in the country. His 106 rushing yards at UConn last week gave him the third triple-digit rushing yard performance of his career. The Bearcats only had 11 rushing touchdowns as a team last year, and Warren seems poised to eclipse that mark and former UC running back George Winn’s mark of 13 touchdowns in 2012.
Cincinnati Passing Game
Redshirt-freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder came in on the Bearcats’ third offensive series against UCLA and has maintained the starting role ever since. Ridder has posted back-to-back games with 200 passing yards, which followed a three-touchdown performance in the third game of the season against Alabama A&M. Ridder is completing 67 percent of his passes for 888 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception. He also is averaging 4.8 yards per rush attempt with three scores.
Cincinnati Receiving Corps
Junior tight end Josiah Deguara is having a breakout season as he leads the team through five games with 18 receptions, 247 yards and three touchdowns. Five other receivers have at least nine catches on the season, including Rashad Medaris who also has two touchdowns on the season. Senior wideout Khalil Lewis has 15 receptions with 193 yards and a touchdown and Jayshon Jackson has 12 receptions, 149 yards and a touchdown. Thomas Geddis has also helped in a big way nine receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown.
The Bearcats ranked 94th in the nation in both scoring defense and total defense in 2017. Through five games this year, they are second in scoring and seventh in total defense in the country. Cincinnati is led up front by defensive tackles Cortez Broughton (Sr.) and Marquise Copeland (Sr.). The former has recorded 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss while the latter, who was named to the watch lists for the Outland and Nagurski Awards, leads the defense with 22 tackles. Junior Bryan Wright leads the linebacking corps with 21 tackles, 3.5 of which have been for a loss. He also has recorded a pair of sacks. Sophomore safety James Wiggins has snared two interceptions, including one that sealed the victory against Ohio University, and has broken up three passes. Sophomore linebacker Jarrell White reeled in his first career interception in the win at UConn last Saturday and has 18 tackle, 2.4 for a loss, through five games. Another linebacker, junior Perry Young, had a season-high eight tackles at UConn while senior defensive end Kimoni Fitz had 2.5 tackles for a loss at Connecticut and has 18 stops and three quarterback hurries so far.
Cincinnati Special Teams
The Bearcats only have two field goal attempts on the season, both from true freshman kicker Cole Smith. Smith is also perfect on 26 extra point attempts through five games. Sophomore punter James Smith is averaging 44.2 yards per punt and is the sole reason for Cincinnati leading the league in net punting.
Frankie’s Three Keys to Victory
1. Win the battle in the trenches
Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell has said multiple times that this program is driven by their offensive line. This is the game to prove that belief. In their 40-23 upset win over Memphis last week, Tulane’s defense gave coordinator Jack Curtis a nice birthday present by recording seven sacks on quarterback Brady White. Coming off a win like that, they should come in hungry to slow down Warren and the Bearcats diverse passing game. The Bearcats need to establish the run game early, and the way to do that is for the offensive line to pave the way for the former 2016 Mr. Football winner for the state of Ohio.
Tulane’s offense knows how to unleash big plays. Of their 31 plays that have gone for 20 yards or more, 11 of them have gone for touchdowns. How does UC prevent those plays from happening? Tackling in space would certainly help as well as downfield coverage led by Wiggins, Tyrell Gilbert and Coby Bryant. Tulane’s offense may not put up the best or most gaudy offensive numbers, but their big plays have been a large reason why they have put up 30 or more points twice in their first five games. Cincinnati must be active getting to the ball via the run or on the catch and limit minimal gains becoming big plays.
3. Fast start
With Tulane being a better team than they were last year, it’s important for Cincinnati to get off to a fast start and flex their muscle as the superior team on Saturday. After falling behind 7-0 last week at UConn less than two minutes into the game, the Bearcats outscored them 49-0 the rest of the way. While it was an impressive response on the road, the Bearcats can’t keep falling behind that early in games especially against teams like South Florida and Central Florida. Saturday is a great opportunity playing at home to come out and punch Tulane in the mouth early and make them uncomfortable from the outset.
The Prediction: Cincinnati 35 Tulane 20
With increasing votes in the top 25 and the Bearcats off to their best start since 2012 at 5-0, Cincinnati is starting to draw national attention. That makes every game, though, that much more important, which includes this one tomorrow against Tulane. Coming back to Nippert Stadium, I think the Bearcats will feed off the energy from their fans and get off to a good start, forcing Tulane to play from behind early. Cincinnati’s red zone defense has also been better as of late, which will force the Green Wave to settle for field goals when they will desperately need touchdowns to stay in the game.