USF CINCINNATI GAME WEEK – NOVEMBER 12
By Leo Haggerty

WEEK 10

After a tough home loss to #17 Houston, #2 ranked Cincinnati invades Raymond James Stadium for a Friday evening tilt.  Kickoff is scheduled for 6 pm.

The week started out with the usual trip to the Lee Roy Selman Athletics Center on Tuesday for the in person media availability.  Started out, as usual, with HC Jeff Scott and followed by C Brad Cecil and LB Antonio Grier.  Below are their comments to my queries.

LH : Five years ago, Cincinnati was in the same boat that you are in now and they have turned it completely around.  Is that something you can point to with your player that this is something we can look forward to being?

JS : Yeah, there’s no doubt that’s how we’re looking at it.  I think in Coach Fickell’s first year, they won four games and I’ve talked to him a little bit about that.  Ultimately, recruiting was a big piece of that.  They have done an exceptional job in recruiting.  It’s kind of like planting those seeds and, in three or four years later, you end up with the kind of team that he has right now.  I’ve said, and I’ve said this for a while, that this league is a little bit cyclical.  There’s teams that start off, and then in year three or four, they move toward the top.  I’m looking at Cincinnati’s defense and almost every one of those guys are juniors or seniors or graduates.  So they have been building this roster for a while.  They are definitely maximizing it with a very successful year.

LH : You got the lead early against Houston and played well the entire first half.  How important is it to get the lead against Cincinnati?

JS : Yes, we’ve had the lead early in several of these games.  I told the guys last week at halftime that’s there’s nothing magic I can tell you.  We’ve been here before.  Ultimately, for us to truly take that next step, we are going to have to find a way to finish these games.  There’s no magic talk you can give or magic plays that you can come up with.  You just have to play consistently for two more quarters.  It’s not about telling our guys to go get an early lead and try to hold on.  I think when you’re just trying to hold on, you’re staring at the scoreboard and, usually, that doesn’t work out for you.  Really, what my focus is for our guys, we have to play our best for four quarters.  These are good teams that we’re playing.  These haven’t been some team where we were some big favorite and we let them come back and beat us in the second half.  We’re like 14 point underdogs in some of those game early and whatever and we’re 24 point underdogs this week.  In order to pull off an upset like that, you have to be at your best for four quarters.  We’re just not at a place where we can make the kind of mistakes that we make in the second half and expect to upset some really good teams.

LH : Nine USF players caught passes last week and 10 were targeted.  Is that a good feeling knowing that teams cannot concentrate on one or two players because nine guys are catching the football.?

JS : I think we’re talking about trying to develop depth and where we are defensively with our depth.  Offensively, we do have a little bit more depth there and it’s good to see.  Earlier in the year, it was like Xavier Weaver and that’s where the ball is going, right.  He was the one guy you felt the best about.  Now, you seeing Chris Carter lay out and make an incredible play.  Mitchell Brinkman over here.  You’re seeing Jimmy Horn making some nice plays and getting better.  Omarion Dollison is a guy that I’ve talked about that has a lot more ahead of him.  Then, our backs and the kind of year that Jaren Mangham has had.  Two weeks ago, it was Kelley Joiner and, this week, it was Brian Battie.  These guys are young and that part is exciting and it’s something that will make us better down the road.  Ultimately, we want to have some success Friday night and in our last three games of the year.

LH : The Houston game was a perfect example of pass pro for the offensive  line.  The tackles forced the edge rushers outside while the center and guards walled off the interior defensive lineman.  The impressive part was that McClain stepped up into the pocket and didn’t try to escape out the back door where the rush was.  Is it surprising what the freshman is accomplishing?

BC : No, it’s not.  It kind of goes back to what I was sayin a second ago.  That’s something that he’s starting to learn.  It’s part of the process.  Getting that experience of going through games.  Learning what he can and can’t do.  What’s best for his decision making.  Week by week, he’s getting smarter back there.  It’s really awesome to see that.

LH : Are you going to have your doctorate degree when your done here?

BC : Yeah, I could and if they’d let me, I’d stay.  I’m going to come back and get my Masters starting in January.

LH : What’s been the biggest change from last year to this year?

AG : The locker room.  I say the locker room because the atmosphere in our locker room has completely changed.  There’s a sense of pride there.

GAME TIME

In a game that was a blowout for a half, South Florida closed the gap in the third quarter but Cincinnati pulled away in the last 15 minutes for a 45-28 triumph at Raymond James Stadium.  The Bearcats improved to 10-0 and 6-0 in the American Athletic Conference.  The Bulls fell to 2-8 and 1-5 in the AAC.

After the Bulls punted on their opening possession, the USF defense caused the first turnover of the game.  On the Bearcats first play from scrimmage, QB Desmond Ritter (31 of 39 for 304 and 2 TD plus 1 INT) found WR Michael Young (4 for 53 yards) for an 18 yard gain but LB Dwayne Bowles forced a fumble at the end of the play.  The pigskin was recovered by CB Daquan Evans setting South Florida up with a short field opportunity at the Red & Black 31 yard line.

The Bulls returned the favor on their next play.  RB Kelly Joiner (9 for 43 yards ) left it on the ground and Cincinnati LB Joel Dublanko pounced on the football at the Bearcats 36 yard line.

Cincinnati continued in the giving spirit.  On their third play of the drive, Ritter tried to hit WR Alec Pierce (3 for 24 yards) but the pass was deflected by CB Christian Williams.  #4 was able to collar the battled ball and returned it 61 yards to the Bearcats 2 yard line.

It took the Green & Gold one play and 5 seconds to put up the first points of the evening at 7:08 of the opening period. RB Jaren Mangham (16 for 53 yards and 2 TD) bounced a dive around the left end to go into the end zone untouched.  Spencer Shrader booted the PAT and USF took a 7-0 lead.

Cincinnati answered immediately at 2:57 of the first period.  RB Ryan Montgomery (6 for 72 yards and 2 TD) swept around left end and dove over the goal line to complete a 12 yard gallop.  That finished off a nine play drive that traveled 75 yards in 4:11.  K Alex Bales converted the extra point to tie the game a 7 all.

The Bearcats took the lead at 9:36 of the second period.  Ritter (6 for 72 yards and 2 TD) kept the football and rambled around left end for a 13 yard score.  That ended an 11 play drive that took 5:31 to traverse 73 yards.  Bales was true with the kick and the Red & Black took their first lead of the contest at 14-7.

Cincinnati would extend their advantage at 5:30 of the second quarter.  After QB Timmy McClain (16 for 29 for 245 yards and 1 TN plus 1 INT) was intercepted by CB Ahmad Gardner giving the Bearcats a short field, it took only 2:51 to go 34 yards in six plays. Ritter hit WR Tre Tucker (6 for 51 yards and 1 TD) with a quick one yard flip that #7 took around the left end for the touchdown.  Bales split the uprights and the Red & Black moved out to a 21-7 advantage.

After USF P Andrew Stokes shanked a punt for nine yards, the Bearcats score the final points of the first half as time expired. Bales blasted a 27 yard field goal that terminated a 2:11 drive that went 46 yards in 11 plays giving Cincinnati a commanding 24-7 lead at intermission.

The Red & Black didn’t waste any time changing the scoreboard at 11:48 of the third quarter.  After taking the second half kickoff, Riddle connected with TE Josh Whyle (5 for 61 yards and 1 TD) with a 21 yard aerial that ended a eight play drive that chewed up 3:07 going 81 yards.  Bales again was true with the PAT and Cincinnati added to its lead to the tune of 31-7.

USF got back in the scoring column at 6:39 of the third period.  Mangham powered in from a yard away to complete a 75 yard drive that took 12 plays in 5:09.  Shrader booted the extra point and South Florida inched closer at 31-14.

After forcing a Bearcat punt, the Green & Gold struck quickly at 3:48.  On the first play from scrimmage, McClain hit WR Jimmy Horn (5 for 108 yards and 1 TD) with a quick slant and #5 took it to the house to complete an 80 yard catch and run that took 13 seconds.  Shrader kicked the extra point and all of a sudden the Bulls found themselves within 10 at 31-21.

Like any highly ranked team, the Red & Black matched that score with one of their own at 14:00 of the final period.  RB Ethan Wright (10 for 38 yards and 1 TD) did the honors with a one yard run that finished off a 10 play drive that traversed 73 yards in 4:39.  Bales made the PAT and the Bearcats increased their margin to 38-21.

After South Florida fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Bulls stopped Cincinnati on downs at their own one yard line.  That led to 16 play drive that went 98 yards in 5:13 with McClain (9 for 29 yards and 1 TD) scurrying the last yards to pay dirt.  Shrader hit the PAT and the Green & Gold were back to within 10 at 38-28 with 6:14 left in the fourth quarter.

Sadly, that’s as close as USF would get as Cincinnati would put up the final points of the evening with 1:22 left in regulation.  It took the Cats one play and 11 seconds for Montgomery to go 55 yards to pay dirt.  Bales kicked to PAT to make the final score 45-28.

Had a chance to visit postgame with Scott and Mangham and Horn along with Williams.  Here are their responses to my queries.

LH :  The Cincinnati offensive line was the size of an NFL O-Line and you were outweighed across the defensive line.  How proud of your guys that they fought tooth and nail in the trenches?

JS : There were times where we did very well against their run and there were times where we had some missed tackles down there on the goal line when we had the guy in the backfield for a loss.  We just couldn’t quite finish the way that we needed to. That is something we have to clean up. Overall, I felt like we played better and we were able to get some pressure on their QB and disrupt him a little bit. At times we did better and I was very disappointed with that second run.

LH : On your first touchdown, it looked like the hole was blocked and you slid it outside.  Is that what happened?

JM : They brought the backers and they tried to plug it back. Once they overflew and they came in, I just knew as soon as I saw that backer plug that gap that the outside was gonna be wide open. I just trusted my eyes and went where they led me.

LH : On the touchdown, when did you know you were going to be able to take it to the house?

JH : I knew when I had first caught the ball and there was nobody to hit me that I was straight. I just knew my speed would kick in and it was over with. The rest was history.

LH : Take us through the interception.  Were you in man or zone?

CW : I know we were in man on that play. I just kept my eyes on my man. I saw he broke so I just got in position and looked back for the ball. By the time the ball was there I saw it in the air and just grabbed it. Then I just tried to get it to the end zone and score. I was really just excited when I caught the ball because that was my first college pick.

All photos are provided by our exceptional father and son photo journalist team of Trace and Matt Crisp.  Great shots as you will agree.