With UCLA football’s season opener against Cincinnati just a few days away, assistant Sports editor Jared Tay reached out to Cincinnati’s student newspaper – The News Record – to get some insider info on the Bearcats and their upcoming season.
All answers to the questions below came from TNR Sports editor Spencer Schultz.
Daily Bruin: A lot of people were surprised when Cincinnati beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl last year – what do you think were the decisive moments in last years’ game that led the Bearcats to the win?
Spencer Schultz: I think running back Michael Warren II had a big game. He had over 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns, so he was really set to start after that. Running back Gerrid Doaks – who is a junior this year – was out with an injury all last season, so we really needed Warren to produce, which he did from start to finish last year. Quarterback Hayden Moore got benched for Desmond Ridder, so I think a lot of Cincinnati fans worried about Ridder coming in. But, he did well, Cincinnati moved the ball well and we came out with the win.
DB: With its win over Virginia Tech in last year’s Military Bowl, Cincinnati finished the season 11-2 – only the third time in program history the Bearcats have finished with 11 or more wins. What were the keys to such a successful 2018 campaign, and do you see those continuing into this season?
SS: Defense was a big part of Cincinnati football last season. Last year, we had cornerback Coby Bryant – along with linebackers Bryan Wright and James Wiggins – who all contributed on the defensive end of the ball. Cincinnati didn’t give up any points to Miami (University) of Ohio last year and only 17 against UCLA. This year, we will have linebacker Perry Young back from his ACL tear last season and that will be really big.
DB: Warren had big numbers last season, averaging over 110 yards per game. UCLA, on the other hand, was ranked in the bottom half of FBS teams in run defense. Do you anticipate the run game being a significant factor in both the season opener and the rest of the Bearcats’ season?
SS: It definitely will be. We have experience at the position with running backs Warren, Doaks and then Tavion Thomas who had a great year last year. Wide receivers Thomas Geddis and Rashad Medaris both had running spurts last year and they are both seniors now. Wide receiver Kahlil Lewis graduated last year and he now plays for the Atlanta Falcons. The running game worked last year, and I think it will be another key factor with what the offensive decides to do on August 29.
DB: Ridder is about to begin his second season as the Bearcats’ starting quarterback. How would you describe the expectations that will be placed on him in terms of his ability to lead the offense?
SS: I wouldn’t say very high, but they’re high, don’t get me wrong. He’s still young and I think Cincinnati’s expectations are still more on the running game than Ridder. I think Ridder will settle in. I think it’s more about getting comfortable, (since) we have a couple of new guys on the offensive line. It’ll be about forming chemistry with some of the new wide receivers. He’s really (a) dual threat. You will see him commit to the run game more, (with more option-style plays) and at times choosing to run more than pass.
DB: Redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley had a breakout season last year, tallying six 100-yard rushing games on the season. How will the Bearcats’ defense – which was ranked 13th in the nation last year – work to stop the Bruins’ ground attack?
SS: I think Cincinnati will do a good job containing UCLA’s running backs. We have Wright, who was a great middle linebacker last year, and Young is back from his torn ACL. Young may not play as much because he’s trying to get a feel for things, but Cincinnati is great at the linebacker position. The running backs will get the yards, it’s just a question of how bad it can get on a certain day, but I think we’ll be ready for it.
DB: Who will you look to as the biggest playmakers of the upcoming game, and what is your score prediction?
SS: I will definitely go with Warren. We are going to rely on him, especially if Ridder isn’t passing the ball well. I think Warren will have another big day. He’ll have a couple touchdowns, maybe Doaks will have one. Since the game is at Cincinnati, the atmosphere is going to be crazy here. Everyone is excited, so I’m going to say 24-17, Cincinnati will come out on top.