CINCINNATI – Players don’t normally bring notes to a press conference, but Cincinnati Bearcats defensive lineman Cortez Broughton wanted to make sure he had the names of everyone on the scout team who helped prepare the defense for Navy.
Broughton said the scout team’s ability to simulate Navy’s triple-option offense was crucial in Cincinnati stopping the nation’s third best rushing offense Saturday.
The Bearcats (8-1, 4-1 American Athletic Conference) rolled to a 42-0 win over Navy (2-7, 1-4 AAC) in front of a packed house at Nippert Stadium, outgaining the Midshipmen 451-171 and limiting them to 124 yards rushing.
“It doesn’t just go unnoticed from the scout team,” Broughton said. “I brought a list with just some names -- Doug Bates, Ethan Voelker, Cody Lamb, Joe Schroer, Alex Heil, Drew Hartmann, Nick Staderman, Mason Garrison… As far as our scout team and the look we had this week, they moved faster than Navy did, so when we went up against Navy, it was second nature.”
The Middies simply couldn’t break UC’s ninth-ranked defense. Navy crossed midfield just once in the first half and only made it as far as the Bearcats’ 26-yard line in the second half before the Bearcats stopped quarterback Zach Abey on a run on fourth-and-2 to force the turnover on downs.
Abey led Navy with 37 yards rushing and completed 3 of 4 passes for 47 yards.
The Bearcats finished with a season-high nine tackles for loss and five sacks, including one by Malik Clements in the fourth quarter that forced a fumble. Ethan Tucky recovered to set up a 40-yard touchdown run by Charles McClelland on the next play.
Broughton led Cincinnati’s defense with a career-high 10 tackles.
Cincinnati had a little extra motivation as coach Luke Fickell reminded his players earlier this week that Navy rushed for 569 yards against the Bearcats last year. The coaching staff studied that game hard during the offseason and came up with some ways to better defend against Navy, bringing an extra linebacker in for a safety.
“I read off how many rushing yards they had, might have made some things up about the first half, but you study history so you learn from it,” Fickell said. “Last year’s game against them was a big eye-opener, and not many guys in that locker room had played against them until last year.
“It was simulated better than I’ve ever seen it simulated. (Scout team quarterback) Kyle Bolden’s ability to do the things he did gave us a good look at it. … To do those little things, to be disciplined with your eye because they can turn in a heartbeat, that’s where the biggest growth was defensively, being disciplined and tracking the football.”
The offense did its part, too, scoring on Cincinnati’s first five drives before punting for the only time in the third quarter. UC established its running game early, rushing five times on its first six plays during a 60-yard scoring drive capped by Michael Warren’s 8-yard touchdown run. That opened the pass and the Bearcats moved the ball with ease either way.
“There was a lot of work on the offense as well,” Fickell said. “Their ability to move the football, their ability to get out in front so you can play a little different defensively - it really came together today, to see the true complementary football - offense, defense and special teams thriving off one another.
“There are a lot of good things brewing in that locker room and it showed today," Fickell said.
Injuries were about the only thing that went wrong. Cincinnati lost linebacker Perry Young to a knee injury and a handful of other players went off with ailments but returned.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder was sent to the sideline late in the first half after taking an ugly hit on an awkward slide at the end of a run; however, Hayden Moore came in to finish the drive and threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Deguara for a 28-0 lead going into the break.
Ridder returned to open the second half and showed right away he was fine, connecting with Rashad Medaris on a beautiful 55-yard touchdown pass. Medaris cut across the middle of the field and split two defenders, and Ridder caught him in stride around the 20-yard line with an open lane to the end zone.
“It was just about being aggressive,” Medaris said of the decision to strike so quickly with the pass even with a big lead. “I know we were up 28-0, but we can’t let up because a team like Navy, with their offense, you never know what you’re going to get. We just had to stay aggressive…
“(Ridder) really threaded the needle,” Medaris said.
With the game in hand, that ended Ridder’s day and Moore finished the game. Ridder completed 13 of 17 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown and had seven carries for 66 yards, including a 28-yard keeper on the opening drive. Moore had just one completion as the Bearcats ran the ball most of the remainder after he entered.
McClelland had 85 yards on six carries after replacing Warren, who finished with 68 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
Coming off two straight overtime games, the Bearcats needed a game like Saturday’s with some breathing room. But as refreshing as the win was, there’s no time to relax. Cincinnati heads into the toughest part of its schedule, hosting South Florida on Nov. 10 before traveling to No. 12 Central Florida the following week.
USF will be coming in angry after a stunning loss to Tulane on Saturday.
“It was very important (to gain confidence) because, not saying we’re looking ahead, but we understand UCF is No. 1 in the conference and we understand we have to win every conference game to give us a chance to compete for the conference championship,” Medaris said. “A win like today shows the conference we’re capable of winning.”
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