We continue our preview of this season’s football opponents with the University of Cincinnati, who the Huskies will host at Pratt & Whitney Stadium on Saturday, September 29th.
This Week 5 match-up will be a good test for the Huskies. Like UConn, Cincinnati was rebuilding last year with a new head coach. Where they’re different is that head coach Luke Fickell is recruiting at a much higher level, so his emerging talent could give them an edge.
Still, this should be one of the more competitive games on the Huskies’ schedule. A win here could really set the stage for a better-than-expected season for Randy Edsall in his second year.
The Bearcats finished 4-8 last year, 102nd in the S&P+ Overall Efficiency rankings, and honestly they were lucky to win four times.
They won two conference games, against two of the conference’s weakest teams, by a total of two points. They held on to beat Tulane, 17-16, and then the Huskies handed Cinci a win in gloriously stupid fashion in last year’s season finale.
Combine that with an season-opening victory over FCS Austin Peay and a four-point win over Miami of Ohio, and it was far from a memorable season for a fanbase that was used to consistent success. But there were some signs of progress.
Inconsistency plagued the Bearcats across last season, but the offense picked up towards the end as junior quarterback Hayden Moore finished with over 2500 passing yards and 24 total touchdowns, 20 through the air.
Defensively, Cincinnati had a solid-looking, experienced bunch that finished middle-of-the pack in FBS, 86th in the country according to S&P+. It was nothing spectacular, but they did it with a lot of seniors and juniors.
Moore returns along with last year’s leading rusher, Gerrid Doaks, and leading receiver, Kahlil Lewis. But the Bearcats are thin on proven pass-catchers behind Lewis and the offensive line is going to be inexperienced.
On the other side of the ball, the front seven, particularly the defensive line, is loaded with talent and should be the strength of this unit. The secondary, on the other hand, has depth issues, particularly at corner. It could be touch and go back there unless a few underclassmen step up. Or, if the run defense holds strong and the line generates a dangerous pass rush, it could be alright.
Many college football folks are high on Cincinnati and what Fickell’s doing there, and for good reason. Overall, though, expectations are relatively modest for 2018, hovering around six wins and a bowl.
This is a winnable game for the Huskies, but Cincinnati has a lot going for it in this match-up. The Bearcats have an experienced senior quarterback, a much more talented defensive front, and higher-rated young guys across the depth chart. We know UConn is going to be young across the board, so Cincinnati will have an edge in overall experience as well.
When the Huskies have the ball, they’ll have to spread it out and attack Cinci’s secondary. It’ll be tough sledding in the ground game, but UConn will probably try to establish the run a little because that’s what coaches like to do.
On defense, UConn is going to have to prevent the big play through the air. The Huskies will probably be able to contain the running game, so if the secondary can’t prevent big plays against this team, they’re going to get wiped out against the many others on the schedule that have way more proven deep threats.
Given Cinci’s potential weakness up front, this would be a good time for all that disruption we were promised with Billy Crocker’s 3-3-5 defense. Hopefully, this unit can prove it has benefited from the year of familiarity following the system change. UConn has the bodies in the trenches, a decent amount of the previous regime’s recruits still fit in the new scheme, and defensive recruiting went alright, it just needs to come together.
Prediction: UConn loses a close one, 28-24