No. 16 SMU ready to measure itself vs. No. 9 Cincinnati
Ninth-ranked Cincinnati hopes to play a game for the first time in three weeks when it visits No. 16 SMU in an American Athletic Conference showdown on Saturday night in Dallas.
The Bearcats (3-0, 1-0 AAC) pulled out of last week’s road game at Tulsa two days prior to the scheduled Saturday contest due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the Cincinnati program.
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell looked back at the decision on Tuesday and wondered if maybe the team should have traveled to Tulsa.
“I still believe in some ways we maybe panicked a little bit,” Fickell said at his press availability.
“In my eyes, I wouldn’t want to cancel any game. In my eyes, I don’t know that we couldn’t have played. But nonetheless, it was a good second half of the week that we ended up with no positive cases and felt a lot better by the time it was Friday and Saturday.”
As Fickell learned, coaches don’t make the decisions during the coronavirus pandemic. The medical staff was deeply concerned, and the game was postponed until Dec. 5.
“There is no silver lining to not playing,” Fickell said. “It is what it is, and you need to handle it and deal with it.”
The Bearcats haven’t played since defeating South Florida 28-7 on Oct. 3 in Cincinnati.
SMU (5-0, 2-0) edged Tulane 37-34 in overtime last week in New Orleans and stands 15-3 over its past 18 games.
Sonny Dykes’ squad won its first eight games last season en route to a 10-3 record. Despite this season’s strong start, the coach believes there is plenty of room for progress.
“It just says we’re getting better,” Dykes said of the 5-0 start. “Some things that some guys had to overcome, and you got to give them a lot of credit for doing that. That’s what you want to do, you just want to try to keep improving your program.”
The offense is certainly stellar. The Mustangs rank fourth nationally in total offense (563.2 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (42.6 points per game).
Senior quarterback Shane Buechele has passed for 1,710 yards and 12 touchdowns against two interceptions. The Texas transfer has played in just 18 games at SMU but ranks third in career touchdown passes (46) and eighth in passing yardage (5,639).
Redshirt freshman running back Ulysses Bentley IV also is off to a strong start with 506 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
The Bearcats will look to slow down the Mustangs’ powerful offense behind a defense that ranks sixth in scoring defense (12.3) and 12th in total defense (306.7). Senior outside linebacker Jarell White (31 tackles) has been a key figure while the unit is tied for fifth nationally with seven interceptions.
The Cincinnati offense is scoring 35.7 points per game, and junior quarterback Desmond Ridder also is moving up the passing-yardage list. Ridder ranks seventh in Bearcats history with 5,206 yards.
This season, Ridder has thrown for 597 yards and six touchdowns against four interceptions.
Slowing down the Bearcats could be a challenge for SMU, which has allowed at least 24 in four of its five games. Sophomore cornerback Brandon Crossley has three interceptions.
Dykes sees the game as a big test that can legitimize his team’s strong start.
“Our guys are excited about the possibility of playing against a very good team and having a measuring stick to see where we are as a program,” Dykes said. “It’s an opportunity to play against one of the best teams in the league and a team that’s highly regarded and I think respected by people across the country, and so I think our guys will be ready to play.”
Cincinnati has won three of the four previous meetings, including a 26-20 overtime win in Dallas in 2018. The teams didn’t meet last season.
–Field Level Media