Luke Fickell came to Cincinnati after a successful stint as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the No. 20 Bearcats are off to a 6-0 start in part because they have been so stingy.
Heading into an American Athletic Conference game at Temple on Saturday, Cincinnati is permitting just 13.7 points per game, which ranks third in FBS. The Bearcats also lead the nation in pass efficiency defense while ranking in the top 10 in five other defensive categories, including total defense (fourth) and fewest first downs (fifth).
“What we’ve done has been pretty good so far,” Fickell said. “Let’s make sure we’re not outthinking ourselves. We’ve been able to have balance, pressuring and playing coverage on defense. Now we have to find ways to continue to enhance this.”
Yet there are still plenty of skeptics when it comes to the Bearcats. Few FBS teams have played a softer schedule. None of the six teams they’ve beaten presently owns a winning record, and only Ohio (3-3) can even claim a .500 mark.
That’s why Cincinnati is an underdog against the Owls (4-3, 3-0), who are actually tied with No. 10 Central Florida for first place in the AAC East, a half-game up on the Bearcats and No. 21 South Florida.
While Cincinnati took last week off after dealing Tulane a 37-21 loss on Oct. 6, Temple neutralized Navy’s tricky triple-option attack in a come-from-behind, 24-17 win at Annapolis. The Owls didn’t allow the Midshipmen to score over the game’s final 28 minutes and permitted just 284 total yards.
“They threw some new things at us, but our guys settled down and got used to them,” Temple coach Geoff Collins said. “We held them to 24 yards offensively in the fourth quarter. We handled some adversity, and what stood out to me is how the kids finished.”
Owls quarterback Anthony Russo enjoyed his second straight efficient outing, completing 23 of 31 passes for 300 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Russo took over the starting role for a Sept. 15 win at Maryland and has hit nearly 60 percent of his passes, although he has tossed seven picks in his five starts.
The Bearcats are also getting good play from a new starter under center, freshman Desmond Ridder. He is connecting on nearly 66 percent of his passes with a 10-to-2 touchdown-interception ratio. Ridder is also proving to be a threat with his feet, collecting 315 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
The Owls own a 12-7-1 lead in the all-time series, winning three consecutive matchups.
—Field Level Media