Ten years. It’s now been ten years since the Miami RedHawks last beat the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Battle for the Victory Bell, a 44-16 triumph in Oxford where Josh Betts went off for 359 yards and three touchdowns while the defense recorded five interceptions on the day. Since that time, the two programs have trended in opposite directions with Cincinnati having a lot of stability under Brian Kelly and Tommy Tuberville while Miami has been in disarray as a program aside from its MAC title run in 2010.
Cincinnati is looking to make 11 straight in college football’s oldest non-conference rivalry as they fell apart late to a good #6 Houston team 40-16 last week. The storyline for the Bearcats this season is Hayden Moore being named the starter at quarterback as the once highly-touted Gunner Kiel has been relegated to the third-string. Moore has controlled the offense well with 785 yards with 59.2% complete, seven scores, three interceptions, and 6.9 yards per attempt.
Eric Wilson has been a force at linebacker this season with 25.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and one pass break-up. Aside from Wilson’s play, the defense has struggled in getting off the field as they have given up 56% on third down conversions, but have been able to lock down teams in the red zone by giving up six scores on 12 opportunities.
Meanwhile, Miami has had a tough go of it as it has failed to play four good quarters of football in any game this season, which will do you in against the good teams it has played in its non-conference slate. Billy Bahl is in the process of becoming a good quarterback with 855 yards, six TDs, and an interception this season, but he needs to do a better job of managing the offense as completing 56.5% of your passes is going to lead to a lot of wasted possessions on offense. The RedHawk offense has been better this year at achieving balance, which will make things easier on a young quarterback.
Defensively, the play of Brad Koenig has been a pleasant surprise as the former walk-on currently leads the team with 18 tackles and four tackles for loss, while also recording a sack and two pass break-ups. The defense has held teams to 211.3 passing yards per game this season, which bodes well this week as much as UC likes to throw the ball. Special teams will be critical as the unit has struggled mightily this season, with kickers going 2-5 on field goals, Justin Martin averaging under 39 yards per punt, and kickoffs averaging well under 60 yards.
The past two seasons have featured one-score games between Cincinnati and Miami, and that’s with the RedHawks having a worse roster than they do now and the Bearcats having older teams. It is baffling as to why the ‘Hawks are 20+ point underdogs to a team that they always get up for under Chuck Martin, and this may be the year that they do the thing. With the offense much improved from a year ago and the lack of depth at receiver for UC, this may be the year that the Bell comes back home.