No. 6 Cincinnati a daunting challenge for Houston
In an exercise of emphasis, Houston coach Dana Holgorsen read out loud the two-deep defensive depth chart for sixth-ranked Cincinnati, and by the time he was finished, his point was made.
The Bearcats (5-0, 3-0 American Athletic) rank seventh in FBS in scoring defense at 12 points per game and 15th in total defense, allowing 306.2 yards per contest. Of the 26 players listed on Cincinnati’s depth chart, only eight are underclassmen. Two are starters, with sophomore defensive backs Arquon Bush and Ahmad Gardner flanked by eight seniors and one junior.
There is a direct correlation between the success Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell is enjoying this season and the experienced players he has developed over his four seasons stewarding the Bearcats. Holgorsen left no doubt about that concept with his impromptu reading of the roster.
“I hope and pray they have me around here long enough to be able to, at five years into it, sit here and talk about all my seniors that have been in the program for the last five years,” Holgorsen said before heaping praise upon the Bearcats, who will host Houston (2-2, 2-1) on Saturday at Nippert Stadium.
“They’re sound, they’re fast, they’re tough, they’re physical, they’re athletic, they play with great effort and they play well together as a team.”
That’s a daunting combination, particularly for a Houston offense manhandled last weekend by UCF and down standout receiver Marquez Stevenson, who suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter against the Knights. He is unlikely to play against the Bearcats.
Without Stevenson, the Cougars struggled to keep pace in their setback to UCF and the challenge will be greater Saturday.
“We’ve got guys that are out, but we’ve got guys that need to step in there and play,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the bottom line. The better those backups go in there and play, the better chance we have of winning. That’s every team across the country.”
Cincinnati exacted a measure of revenge against Memphis last Saturday, rolling to a 49-10 victory over the Tigers. Memphis handed the Bearcats a pair of losses last season, including a 29-24 decision in the AAC Championship one week after beating Cincinnati in the season finale.
Prior to the victory over Memphis, the Bearcats handed SMU its lone loss this season and could essentially knock the Cougars from the conference title picture with a victory on Saturday.
Accomplish that objective this weekend and the lone realistic obstacle between the Bearcats and a potential undefeated run through the schedule would be UCF and its top-ranked offense.
Cincinnati beat the Knights 27-24 last season, the third win of its nine-game winning streak. The Bearcats have proven already they have what it takes to get the job done.
“I think hopefully we’ve got a really mature crew that understands and realizes that as we continue to move forward the expectations for a lot of things continue to rise,” Fickell said. “And that’s what they’re excited about.”
–Field Level Media