CINCINNATI (AP) — The 17th-ranked Bearcats have been living on the edge. In their last two road games, they needed last-second field goals to beat East Carolina and South Florida.
These ‘Cats have managed to stay alive in the American Athletic race, taking it down to the two final games. Cincinnati (9-1, 6-0) can clinch the East Division with a win Saturday over pesky Temple (7-3, 4-2), securing a spot in the league title game. The Bearcats are the only unbeaten team in conference play, so they’re in line to host the game.
Another loss to Temple, which has won the last four games in the series, could scramble everything.
“The more it means, the higher the stakes, the higher the pressure, the more uncharacteristic you can get, and we can’t afford to let that happen,” coach Luke Fickell said.
Cincinnati has played down to the level of its opponent in three of the last four games, leading to those great escapes. There’s no such issue against Temple, which gave Cincinnati its first loss last season and is the last visiting team to win a game at Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats have won 12 straight home games since a defeat to the Owls in November 2017.
“You’re playing for high stakes, and it’s not going to be easy,” Fickell said.
Temple kept dual-threat quarterback Desmond Ridder from getting loose last season while beating the Bearcats 24-17 win, one of Cincinnati’s two losses.
“That was a slugfest last year, for sure,” Temple coach Rod Carey said.
Both teams expect another one with a lot at stake.
TOSSING AND TURNING
Temple’s front four is the biggest concern for a Cincinnati team that repeatedly has changed its offensive line. The Bearcats managed only 278 yards during a 20-17 win at South Florida last week, when the Bulls missed four field goals and Sam Crosa won it with a 37-yarder on the final play.
The Owls lead the FBS with 59 quarterback hits. Defensive end Quincy Roche had 12 tackles — including an AAC record of six for losses — along with three sacks during a 29-21 win over Tulane last week. Roche has 6½ sacks in the last two games, and Fickell’s staff must to figure a way to slow him down.
“I’m not sure I'm going to get a whole lot of sleep,” Fickell said.
AS RIDDER GOES ...
The Owls won last year’s matchup by holding Ridder to 111 yards passing and 9 yards rushing. Ridder also struggled last week at South Florida, completing 9 of 18 for only 78 yards and running 12 times for only 18 yards. Temple need to keep him in check to pull off the upset. Ridder had a sore shoulder after the win at South Florida but expected to play against Temple, which knows his importance in Cincinnati’s offense.
“He’s a quarterback that has control of their offense, runs the ball very effectively, throws the ball effectively,” Carey said. “He’s not going to make a mistake.”
The Owls have already beaten a pair of ranked teams, knocking off No. 21 Maryland 20-17 and No. 23 Memphis 30-28. They’ve never beaten three ranked teams in one season.
Cincinnati overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat East Carolina and a 10-point deficit in the second half to win at South Florida. They’ve got 10 come-from-behind wins in the last two seasons, five of them by double-digits. They overcame a 21-point deficit to beat Ohio 34-30 last season, their biggest comeback under Fickell.
The Bearcats have been sharing the running back spot between Michael Warren II and Gerrid Doaks, who has overcome injuries that wiped out last season and limited him earlier this year. Warren has 833 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. Doaks has 426 yards and five touchdowns.