The Cincinnati Bearcats beat the Virginia Tech Hokies in the 2018 Military Bowl with a dominate rushing performance after sustaining a key injury early in the game. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder injured his ankle late in the first quarter. Virginia Tech capitalized on that misfortune to make a close game out of a lopsided match-up. In dreary Annapolis weather, the two teams battled it out.
Cincinnati Survives Virginia Tech; Wins 2018 Military Bowl
This was about as even as a game as you’ll find in college football. The statistics were remarkable similar. There was less than 20 yards difference in total yards. Rushing yards were separated 32 yards and passing yards by only 13 yards. Even the penalty yards were nearly identical, separated by only four yards.
The difference was timing. Cincinnati had two critical pass interference penalties that enabled Hokie scoring drives. The Bearcats also had more big plays, however.
Rutterless Without Ridder
But the key to this game was Ridder’s injury midway through the first half. Ridder, the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, was the cog for head coach Luke Fickell’s read-option based offense. Ridder entered the game with 2,359 yards on 62% passing and another 563 yards on the ground.
With Ridder in a boot, the Bearcats turned the reins over to senior Hayden Moore. Moore was the starter in 2017, where he accumulated 2,562 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, but completed only 56% of his passes. He also doesn’t present the same rushing threat as Ridder. The accuracy problems showed up again today, as Moore finished the game 11-for-25 (44%) for 120 yards. He did add 64 yards on the ground, including a 19-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Without Ridder, Fickell turned to leading rusher Michael Warren II. The Bearcats were one-dimensional, but it worked. Warren finished with 166 yards on 20 carries. He accounted for 65% of the Bearcats rushing yards, 86% of all yards from running backs. With the Cincinnati defense uncharacteristically porous, Warren kept the Bearcats in the game with his individual effort.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech threatened the upset with a balanced, multi-dimensional attack. Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis was 20-31 (65%) for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Four running backs accounted for 184 yards, with Willis adding 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Sophomore Deshawn McClease led the way with 102 yards.
A Fitting End
It was a fitting end to the Hokie season. In Justin Fuente’s third season, the Hokies barely extended their nation-leading active bowl streak. It was a disappointing season, and Monday’s game was no different.
While Virginia Tech’s defense wasn’t all-world, they were able to slow down a Cincinnati attack that, on paper, should have feasted on the Hokie defense. The Hokies offense were effective against a stout Bearcats defense for three full quarters. But the Hokies took a 31-28 lead at 12:44 remaining in the fourth quarter. Their last three drives of the game ended with two turnovers and three-and-out. That includes an interception in the final minute after Cincinnati had taken a lead with 2:16 to go.
It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for the Hokies.
It was a tough, hard fought victory for a Cincinnati team looking to do big things in the AAC in 2019.
But the close, entertaining game was definitely a win for the fans watching.
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