Previewing Virginia Tech’s Military Bowl Opponent: The Cincinnati Bearcats

Virginia Tech’s coaches are pounding the recruiting trail at the moment, as they should be. The early signing period is just days away, and securing young talent is the best way to improve the Hokies’ prospects moving forward.

However, Virginia Tech still has a game left on the schedule. Due to some late-season heroics, the Hokies are going bowling once again, this time in the Military Bowl vs. Cincinnati.

The Bearcats finished the regular season at 10-2, their first 10-win season since 2012. They’ll pose a healthy threat to Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve in Annapolis.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive review of Cincinnati, but it is meant to shed light on the Bearcats and what kind of team they are. We’ll take a look at their schedule, some of the team’s best players and how the advanced metrics view Cincinnati.

The schedule

There’s a reason Cincinnati finished the season outside the College Football Playoff Top 25 with a 10-2 record — the Bearcats played a weak schedule and failed to earn a marquee win.

Here’s Cincinnati’s schedule…

  • at UCLA (3-9), 26-17 win
  • at Miami (Ohio) (6-6), 21-0 win
  • vs. Alabama A&M (6-5), 63-7 win
  • vs. Ohio (8-4), 34-30 win
  • at UCONN (1-11), 49-7 win
  • vs. Tulane (6-6), 37-21 win
  • at Temple (8-4), 24-17 loss in OT
  • at SMU (5-7), 26-20 win
  • vs. Navy (3-9), 42-0 win
  • vs. USF (7-5), 35-23 win
  • at UCF (12-0), 38-13 loss
  • vs. East Carolina (3-9), 56-6 win

Of Cincinnati’s 10 wins, only five of them came against teams who are bowl eligible. Their most impressive wins include a four-point victory over Ohio and a 12-point victory over South Florida. Not all that daunting, eh?

Cincinnati played two teams that won more than eight games, losing both. They lost at Temple in an overtime defeat, and got pummeled by Central Florida down in Orlando. Losing to UCF is entirely understandable, but when you lose both games against teams you play with a pulse, it hurts the resume.

The leaders

Redshirt freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder put together a terrific debut season, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 2.359 yards, 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

As a runner, Ridder was even more prolific. Ridder carried the ball 148 times this season, rushing for 574 yards and another five touchdowns. Ridder rushed for 60 yards or more on six different occasions. He’s a true dual-threat quarterback and finished as the team’s second-leading rusher.

Cincinnati’s leading rusher is sophomore Michael Warren II, a 5-foot-11 and 218-pound rock that racked up 1,163 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Warren played his best two games against UCLA and USF, rushing for more than 140 yards and scoring three touchdowns in each of those two contests.

None of Cincinnati’s receivers finished the year with more than 800 receiving yards, but they’ve got a balanced attack on the outside. Senior receiver Khalil Lewis led the way for the Bearcats, catching 55 passes for 768 yards and nine touchdowns. Lewis waited until their season finale vs. East Carolina for his best performance of the year, totaling nine receptions for 203 yards and three touchdowns.

Josiah Deguara and Rashad Medaris are the only other Bearcat receivers to finish the regular season with 400 yards or more, totaling 465 and 429 respectively.

On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Malik Clements was the team’s most impactful player. The Danville, Va. native finished 2018 with 53 tackles (tied for the team lead), six tackles for loss and two sacks. Cortez Broughton led the way up front, finishing with 46 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Safety James Wiggins picked off a team-high three passes and was credited with five pass breakups.

The metrics

First, let’s use Cincinnati’s traditional statistics to create a baseline for comparison.

  • Scoring offense — 34.9 points per game (tied for 26th)
  • Total offense — 458.2 yards per game (25th)
  • Scoring defense — 16.1 points per game (7th)
  • Total defense — 291.9 yards per game (8th)

Here are some of Cincinnati’s advanced metrics, courtesy of Football Outsiders.

  • Offensive S&P+ — 28.4 (74th)
  • Defensive S&P+ — 19.2 (19th)
  • Special Teams S&P+ — minus-0.2 (76th)
  • Overall S&P+ — 9.0 (32nd)

By all standards, Cincinnati’s defense is pretty stellar. Despite the weak schedule, the Bearcats defense ranks in the top-20 in S&P+. Offensively, it’s definitely much more of a mixed bag. Cincinnati’s offense looks a lot better in the box score than it does in the S&P+.

Bringing it all together

Cincinnati’s defense led the way in 2018, making up for an inconsistent offense under a freshman quarterback. The Bearcats will give Ryan Willis and Co. plenty of problems, but that’s not to say they’ll shut down the Hokies.

As inconsistent as Cincinnati’s offense is, they have some firepower. Desmond Ridder should only get better with another set of practices before the Military Bowl, and he’s already shown the ability to take care of the football. He’s got a balanced receiving corps around him and a star running back beside him.

But still, Cincinnati hasn’t played many good teams this season. Their overall numbers are no doubt inflated by the team’s weak schedule. South Florida and Ohio are Cincinnati’s best wins, and neither of them are that impressive.

I encourage you to dig deeper than I have, if you have the time, to get an even better idea of what kind of team Cincinnati is. Hopefully this was a good primer of what is to come. We’ll get the full experience on Dec. 31 in Annapolis.


4 thoughts on “Previewing Virginia Tech’s Military Bowl Opponent: The Cincinnati Bearcats”

  1. The point is they have beaten solidly every team they have played with a record comparable to VT. This will be a tough game for Tech and if they don’t play with a chip on their shoulders for 4 quarter the Hokies will be in real trouble.

  2. If they didn’t have a dual threat QB, I’d feel a lot better about the Hokies chances. That’s definitely an achilles heel for VT defense.

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