CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell believes the contrasting styles of opponents had more to do with recent too-close-for-comfort wins than his team being distracted by all the rankings and playoff hype.
The No. 2 Bearcats had to work hard to beat Navy and Tulane in relatively close games on the road the past two weeks.
“We’re playing a triple-option team one week then coming back to prepare for a spread team the next week,” Fickell said. “Maybe they throw in some wildcat or different things. It’s all about making adjustments.”
The Bearcats have been asked a lot about style points, which they will need in abundance if they hope to have a shot at the College Football Playoff.
They needed a late interception to hold off Navy 27-20 after the Midshipmen recovered an onside kick in the closing minutes. Then Cincinnati clung to a two-point halftime lead last week at Tulane before pulling away for a 31-12 win.
Cincinnati (8-0, 4-0 AAC) was a heavy favorite in both games, but their opponents managed to keep the Bearcats’ explosive offense on the bench.
“It frustrates me to sit on the sidelines and see (the opponent) go slow,” said senior quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has passed for 1,847 yards and 18 TDs. “We prepared for it against Navy. Tulane did a good job staying on the field and controlling the possession.”
Tulsa could approach things the same way when it visits Nippert Stadium on Saturday.
The Golden Hurricane lost to the Bearcats, 27-24, on a last-second field goal in last year’s AAC championship game.
“We know they’re wanting to get back up here and play us again,” Ridder said. “They have a bad taste in their mouth from last season.”
Tulsa (3-5, 2-2 AAC) last faced a No. 2-ranked team in 1991 when it lost 34-10 to Miami.
The Golden Hurricane average more than 30 points per game, led by junior quarterback Davis Brin, who has passed for 2,095 yards with 11 touchdowns.
Tulsa allows more than 30 points per game, but 49 have come on special teams and defensive touchdowns.
The Bearcats will feel like they have something to prove after being ranked No. 6 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings despite being undefeated with a signature win at No. 10 Notre Dame.
“Pressure is what you apply to yourself,” Fickell said. “This is what you want, what you strive for. We just need to make sure we know how to handle it. It’s all a great thing for our program and community. But you can never live up to someone else’s expectations.”
OFF THE GRID
Fickell doesn’t want his players to be distracted by rankings or the playoff debate, so he asked them to turn off their phones in the evenings. “There’s nobody that has any social media who can ignore it,” Fickell said. “I’ve challenged them to let their minds rest in some ways. I told them to set their phones down at 10 o’clock at night. I just want them to give their minds a break.”
Tulsa running back Shamari Brooks ranks fourth in the AAC with 588 yards. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has four touchdowns.
Brooks ran for 1,046 yards in 2019, then missed last season after suffering a torn ACL the week before the season opener. He’s returned to become one of five Tulsa players to rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career and now has 3,288 yards.
RUN RIDDER RUN
Ridder rushed for 47 yards on 13 carries in last week’s win at Tulane, including a 37-yarder. While Tulane held Jerome Ford to his lowest yardage output of the season, Ridder made them pay. “When they focus on 'Rome, they focus less on me,” Ridder said. “I wanted to see myself stay in the pocket and just use my legs when needed.”
Cincinnati returns home to Nippert Stadium, where it has won 24 straight games. It’s the nation’s second-longest home winning streak behind Clemson. Saturday’s game is sold out. It’s also homecoming and ESPN’s College GameDay pregame show is visiting the campus for the first time.