Three weeks into the season, the Bearcats do not look like the team they were predicted to be at the start of the year. While they’ve won and lost the games they have been projected to, their wins haven’t looked the sharpest and their lost was brutal. I’ll never complain about starting a season 2-1, but if the issues seen in the first quarter of the year remain throughout the rest of the schedule, Cincinnati’s record won’t look so pretty.
To start, the offensive line has looked atrocious, especially against Ohio State. In training camp, the absence of Michigan transfer James Hudson didn’t seem to be devastating, but as the season continues to grow, the inexperience of Lorenz Metz and Vincet McConnell is a blatant hole in the offensive line. Desmond Ridder has constantly looked flustered as he’s been sacked nine times already. The line will grow with experience, but there are major flaws that need to be addressed before the Bearcats take the next step on offense.
Speaking of Desmond Ridder, the Bearcats quarterback has looked less comfortable than last year as he’s already thrown three interceptions, two less than he did all of last year. Last season, the Bearcats relied on Warren to pickup yardage on first and second down to setup third and manageable for Ridder, but now, Warren has struggled to pickup early yardage leading Ridder to try and throw in third and long situations, leading to defenses picking apart the Bearcats offense.
The wide receivers have also been an issue early. Trent Cloud, a sophomore destined to blossom this year after a great camp, only has three receptions for five yards. Rashad Medaris, who was second on the team last year in receiving yards, has been almost unheard of through the first three games as he’s only caught 4 passes for 37 yards. As a deep threat last year, Medaris has shown no sign of being able to create separation down field. To get this Bearcats offense clicking again, Medaris and Cloud must be able to get open and create big plays for Ridder.
It hasn’t been all bad for Cincinnati wideouts, however, as senior Thomas Geddis and sophomore Alec Pierce have carried a majority of the workload for the Bearcats. It seems as if Ridder has found his big play connection downfield, and with the poor play of Medaris, Pierce has stepped into the number one receiver role. Leading the team with 169 yards, it seems as if Pierce is the real deal after a stellar season last year in a special teams role. Geddis has also produced fairly decently as he’s third on the team in receiving yards with 89 yards on 5 catches, good for a 17.8 average. After a lackluster junior season, the senior seems to be picking it up. Cincinnati will need the receivers to turn their struggles around, especially as teams key in on Warren and Tavion Thomas in the backfield.
Defensively, the Bearcats have looked stout, minus the Ohio State game where they were overmatched and out ran. On the line, Malik Vann has looked very impressive as he’s recorded two sacks and twelve tackles. The Bearcats recorded five sacks against Miami and constantly had pressure on Dorian Thompson-Robinson of UCLA, but gave Justin Fields and the Buckeyes all day to stay in the pocket. Cincinnati seems to have more packages this year with the use of Michael Pitts and Ethan Tucky at the JACK position, but their depth is going to be tested in these next three games, especially against a more talented UCF team that ran all over Cincinnati last year.
The secondary, depleted by a season ending injury to James Wiggins, has struggled so far. Since teams have recognized the inexperience of the safeties, they aren’t afraid to go deep and test guys like Taj Ward and Ja’Von Hicks. Coby Bryant has also looked weak at times as Ohio State torched him down field and even Miami got a couple of completions on him. While other secondary players have struggled, Darrick Forrest has excelled as the number one safety as he leads the team in tackles and already has two pass deflections. Forrest is can always be seen flying down hill to make the tackle and isn’t afraid to get knocked around. As the most experienced secondary player, he’ll have to step up and bring the young guys up to speed, something that only takes time and maturity.
Finally, the special teams have been very subpar as punter James Smith has looked average at best and the kicking game is still unsolved. Punt returner Ryan Montgomery has looked outstanding as he’s averaged 13.7 yards per return. Montgomery is only a freshman, and the once highly praised recruit has shown why he should be on the field.
Coach Fickell and the Bearcats have a tough three game stretch coming up as they head to Marshall, then host UCF before traveling down to Houston. This is a young team and injuries haven’t helped, but with time, this talented roster can surely be a force in the American.