By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
Coming off a bye week, #7 Cincinnati is 3-0. In their last action they defeated power five Indiana 38-24. They also own dominate wins over Miami of Ohio and Murray State. Luke Fickell is in his 5th season leading the Bearcats, and he has had the program on a roll. 11-2 in 2018, 11-3 in 2019, and 9-1 last year.
Desmond Ridder is a 6-4, 5th year senior quarterback, now in his 4th season as a starter. A 66% passer with 19 TD passes a year ago, he has continued that pace this season but what makes him so good is he also makes plays with his legs. In his career he has rushed for 1,886 and 24 touchdowns. Ridder is experienced and dangerous, sometimes to a fault as he will make mistakes, while trying to push the envelope on his talents.
Ridder’s receiving corp is deep and experienced. Tyler Scott, Alec Pierce and former Notre Dame player Michael Young are the starters. The 6-3, 213 pound Pierce was compared to Ben Skowronek by Brian Kelly earlier this week. Young had 29 catches and 3 TDs a year ago.
Junior running back Jerome Ford is an Alabama transfer who will get most of the carries. Already, through 3 games, he has tallied 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ford is 5-11, 210 and has break away speed. He posted a 79-yard TD run last year against Georgia and a 50 yarder in week #1 against Miami of Ohio.
Cincinnati is averaging 43 points per game and they are very balanced. On the season they have 9 rushing touchdowns and 8 passing.
Defensively Cincinnati is now coordinated by Mike Tressel but they still have the look that made Marcus Freeman such a hot property after last season. They are holding their opponents to a best in the nation 44.3% completion rate, and boast outstanding cornerbacks. Junior corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is considered one of the best in the nation and senior Coby Bryant led the team interceptions last year. Defensive end Myjai Sanders is said to have NFL talent, and will have to be accounted for on every play.
The Bearcats will run a lot of 3-3-5 schemes and safety play looks to be a weakness. This combination could provide the Irish with some match up and rushing opportunities. Cincinnati is giving up only 15 points per game, 12th best nationally.
The Bearcats are very good team on both sides of the football, they deserve their high ranking. The Irish need to find a way to establish a running game, because it is going to be difficult this week for the Irish to capitalize down field, no matter who plays quarterback. On the other side of the ball the disruptive defense the Irish have developed into makes for an intriguing matchup against the dangerous Ridder.
That said, I expect Kyren Williams to have just enough success running the ball to be a difference maker. Also I think the intangibles favor the Irish because I expect Cincinnati to be sluggish after a week off and the Irish seem wired defensively to thrive off home crowd momentum.
TV coverage is on NBC at 2:30 PM EDT. Cincinnati is a 2.5 point favorite and the over under is 50.5.
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: Notre Dame 24 Cincinnati 21