Justin Cashman | Staff Reporter
Michael Warren II (So.) showed that he is one of the most reliable, explosive running backs in the country with a record-breaking performance against the South Florida Bulls Saturday night.
Warren broke the program’s single-season record for touchdowns as he now sits at 18 with two games left.
Warren exploded for 151 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns while also tacking on a receiving touchdown en route to a 35-23 win for the Bearcats.
“I wasn’t aware [of the record]. I’m just balling”, Warren said when asked if he had any idea of becoming the new record holder.
Head coach Luke Fickell described Warren as “built for November”, but if you asked Warren he would just tell you that, “Playing in November is nothing to me. I’m a November baby”.
While Warren and the rest of the offense managed to move the ball down the field for the majority of the game, the defense showed its wrinkles on a few big plays in the first half.
Bulls sophomore quarterback Chris Oladokun started the game after junior starter Blake Barnett injured his shoulder in a 41-15 loss to Tulane the week prior.
He wasted no time as he threw a 72-yard touchdown pass less than three minutes into the game to senior wide receiver Ryshen Bronson, who made a miraculous one-handed catch off the back of Cincinnati senior cornerback Tyrell Gilbert.
The Bearcats were able to answer a couple of drives later as redshirt-freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder connected with senior wide receiver Kahlil Lewis in the back of the endzone for Ridder’s first of his two touchdowns of the game to put Cincinnati up 7-6.
Following a USF field goal to put the Bulls up 9-7, the Bearcats offense took charge again on an 8-play, 60-yard drive, capped off by Ridder hitting Warren in stride for a 13-yard touchdown to put Cincinnati up 14-9.
Only two minutes later, USF’s leading receiver, junior tight end Mitch Wilcox, caught a 38-yard bullet for a touchdown from senior Quarterback Brett Kean who replaced Oladokun in the second quarter.
In only one quarter of play, Kean totaled 67 yards along with the single touchdown pass, for a passer rating of 129.3.
USF led Cincinnati 16-14 going into halftime in what felt like a classic AAC dogfight of a game at that point.
The Bearcats had been 14-41 when trailing at halftime since 2007, but this team was not ready to give up.
Fickell explained that he,“never felt like we generated the momentum” in the first half.
Later, he would say that it was a tail of two halves, which is exactly what it was for the Bearcats.
Cincinnati outscored the Bulls 21-7 in the second half of action, holding them to only 121 yards of total offense and sacking Oladokun, who returned, three times.
Senior defensive end Kimoni Fitz told the media, “it makes life a whole lot easier” when playing next to guys like regining AAC Defensive Player of the Week Cortez Broughton (Sr.) and explosive nose tackle Marquise Copeland (Sr.); two veteran guys who have done so much for this team throughout their careers.
Fitz had a strong performance as he finished with seven total tackles to go along with one of his 3.5 sacks on the season.
The strong play of the defense led Cincinnati to a 35-23 victory to remain undefeated at home thus far on the season.
USF has now lost three straight games and currently sits at fourth in the AAC East with a record of 7-3 (4-3 AAC).
This crucial win puts the Bearcats at 9-1 (5-1 AAC), behind only the undefeated UCF Knights in the AAC East.
The two hot programs will square off next Saturday in one of college football’s biggest games of the season.
Last year UCF cruised to a 51-23 win against Cincinnati in the early makings of an undefeated season for the Knights.
“This game won’t be any different”, said Fickell when asked about this upcoming matchup.
He simply put it will be, “another great opportunity” for this team to get to where they want to be, which this team hopes is playing for an AAC Championship.
This game will have major implications as UCF currently sits at No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings, and a road win versus an opponent of that caliber could be a game that won’t be forgotten for a very long time.
Cincinnati will need to bring everything it has to be able to pull of this major upset, and we all know it is very possible with the way they have been performing this season.
The Bearcats will take on the UCF Knights on Saturday at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The time and network has yet to be determined.