Week four of college football is already upon us. In the blink of an eye, we’re a month into the season and conference play is now beginning for the Cincinnati Bearcats in this week’s match-up against the Oklahoma Sooners. Cincinnati hit its first spell of adversity last week in its loss to Miami (OH) in the 127th Battle for the Victory Bell. Scott Satterfield’s reign as Cincinnati head coach was never going to be perfect, and succumbing to a rival for the first time in 16 years leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the team and the fans.
Putting that loss in the rearview, Cincinnati can spend no time sulking. The number 16 ranked Oklahoma Sooners make the trip to Nippert Stadium for Saturday’s game as the Bearcats kick off their first-ever game in the Big 12 Conference. The game will have significant coverage as Fox’s infamous Big Noon Kickoff crew will be in attendance. Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt will be on the call. Quite the set-up to begin Power Five conference play for the Bearcats.
We would be remiss to not mention it, but Cincinnati will need its A-game if it wants to pull off the upset at home this weekend. To say Oklahoma has been explosive out of the gate would be a severe understatement.
The Sooner’s Season So Far
Oklahoma is averaging a whopping 55.3 points per game in this young season. That’s good for second in the entire country. They rank in the top 10 in many key offensive stats, including seventh in the nation for pass yards per game with 358, and number one for completion percentage at a ridiculous 83%.
Granted, Oklahoma hasn’t played the stiffest competition. Its hardest match-up was against former Cincinnati conference rival SMU. The Sooners handled them soundly 28-11. Defensively, Oklahoma comes in at 20th in the country in yards allowed per game with 289. They allow just 80 yards on the ground and 209 through the air per game.
Cincinnati will probably be Oklahoma’s toughest game yet. Count on the Sooners to bring their best. Here are a few players and some things to look out for for this late September match-up.
The Oklahoma Passing Game Lead by a Familiar Foe
A familiar face for Bearcats’ fans is under center for Oklahoma. Cincinnati faithful might know UCF transfer Dillion Gabriel best for his interception at Nippert Stadium in 2019. Young Freshman Sauce Gardner jumped the route and took it back for six to lead UC to a win against then-number 16 UCF.
Gabriel is lighting it up since his transfer to Oklahoma though. Over 3,100 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions last season. In three weeks this year, he’s second in the country in completion percentage, third in passer rating, fourth in touchdowns, and fifteenth in yards. Like I said, lighting it up.
Gabriel’s top target so far has been Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony. He’s got 14 catches and 254 yards on the year. Drake Stoops also has 14 grabs good for 126 yards. Look for him in action on some underneath routes. Redshirt Freshman Nic Anderson has been the downfield threat. He had three catches for three touchdowns in the Sooner’s week one win.
This air attack for Oklahoma is no joke. Jordan Young, Justin Harris, Bryon Threats, and Taj Ward had a minor setback last week against Miami, but this Cincy secondary will need to bounce back this game in a big way. Sammy Anderson Jr. has missed the last two and a half games, getting him back this week could be a big boost.
The Sooner Defense
They have not been tested too much yet, but the Oklahoma defense has been stout thus far allowing less than 10 points per game. Junior Linebacker Danny Stutsman leads the way again and anchors this defense. He had 128 tackles last season and was Honorable Mention All-Big 12. He’s got 30 tackles in three games. The next highest total is 15, and that’s another Redshirt Freshman Kip Lewis. Seeing his first significant action, Lewis has been solid so far.
The front four has some new faces in Trace Ford, D’jon Terry, and Rondell Bathroyd. All top-tier transfers to help bolster the defense that was objectively awful a season ago.
It’s tough to say what the weakness of this Sooner defense is. They have some good depth and experience at the linebacker position so it shouldn’t be there. The Cincinnati O-Line has been steady for the most part thus far and they’ll try to keep the Oklahoma front away from Emory Jones. Giving him time to find open receivers who can make plays downfield.
Keys to the Game
Gabriel and his guys are going to score. They’re going to get theirs and put up some numbers. Defensive Coordinator Bryan Brown can only hope to limit it the best they can. Gabriel has played at Nippert Stadium twice in his career and lost both times. In both games, he put in a below-average performance at his standards. He’s got three touchdowns and three interceptions in the two games. Dontay Coreleone, Eric Phillips, and Jowon Briggs were quiet in last week’s loss, Cincinnati will need for them to get home to put some pressure on Gabriel. Don’t be surprised if Brown dials up some pressures with Daniel Grzesiak and Jack Dingle as well.
No one has had much success against Oklahoma on offense this year, but Cincinnati probably is the best threat they’ve faced. Xzavier Henderson had another big game last week and is adding up the receptions. Braden Smith had just one catch in last week’s game. Jones will have to spread the love some more, get guys involved, and do everything he can to pick apart the Sooner defense in order to keep up with a possible shootout.
Expect to see Cincinnati try to slow this one down. The rushing attack has been solid as Corey Kiner and Ryan Montgomery have shown well in the first three games. The Bearcats do not want to get into an arms race with this Oklahoma team. Dominating time of possession and pounding sand is a good way to give them the best chance. But there will come a point where someone will have to make a play if UC wants to pull off the upset.
It’s the 14th straight sell-out crowd at Nippert Stadium. After a minor slip-up last week, Cincinnati looks to get back on track and there isn’t a better opportunity to do that than right here. A win this week would all but erase the loss last week in the grand scheme of things. It;s the toughest game of the year for Cincinnati, one that’s been circled on the schedule since it was announced,
Cincinnati must use the home environment of Nippert Stadium to its advantage against Oklahoma. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be exciting. Big 12 play starts with a bang against the Oklahoma Sooners. The season within the season begins now and Cincinnati looks to start it off in the best way.
Photo courtesy: Carter Skaggs/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK