Cincinnati dropped a second straight game against Oklahoma last weekend. It was not a good look opening up conference play in the inaugural Big 12 season with a loss at home. It was an extremely deflating offensive performance out of Cincinnati, failing to score a touchdown. Losing a rivalry game a week before, and starting out conference play in an electric environment at Nippert Stadium, it would’ve been nice to see a better response, and some touchdowns.
Holding the Oklahoma offense to just 20 points was a huge plus. That offense was incredible to start, it can be debated whether that was due to inferior opponents or if the Cincinnati defense is that legit. Regardless, letting up 20 points to a team that was averaging 55 is good. Honestly, if you would have told anyone before the game that Oklahoma would score 20 points, 99% of them would tell you Cincinnati won the game.
So the answer to getting the Bearcats trending in the right direction clearly starts on the offensive side of the ball. And that starts with the quarterback:
Emory Jones Must be Better
Emory Jones came to Cincinnati after a few other stops in the past five years. He flashed his potential here and there but ultimately never found a fit. The new Cincinnati coaching staff hoped to break that mold and make Jones the ideal one-year starter for the Bearcats. Jones wanted to make his last year of college football his best.
He could not have started in a better way. He was Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week in the program’s first-ever game in the conference. Since then, we’ve seen a lackluster version of the quarterback. His week two performance wasn’t great but was overlooked because Cincinnati went on the road for a huge win against Pitt. A win that appears to mean less and less as the season progresses as Pitt shows who they really are each week. Two straight losses since have started to raise questions.
Fixing the Passing Game
When losses start to stack on the schedule, everyone’s first look is at the quarterback. Jones has had almost identical passing stat lines in both of these losses. 265 yards against Miami, 235 against Oklahoma, 53% completion percentage in both, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions in both.
For the most part, we knew what Jones was coming into the year. A good athlete who has struggled with accuracy, especially downfield. We’ve seen that on display with some deep ball misses so far this year. However, we also know that Jones is a playmaker. He is at his best when he’s loose, free, and often outside the pocket making plays.
It isn’t all to blame on Jones. It would be inviting to see some higher percentage passes, some RPOs, and even some read-option play calls. The name of the game is playing to your quarterback’s strengths. Letting Jones sit in the pocket and attempt deep shots isn’t ideal, especially when the offensive line hasn’t been great thus far. Even though Xzavier Henderson has been great at coming down with some Go-balls, it doesn’t provide consistency for the Cincinnati offense.
Leaning on the Wide Receivers
Speaking of Henderson, these Cincinnati wide receivers are good. They’re better than what they’ve shown so far. It seems as if too much of the air attack is relying on Henderson. He has he has 23 catches this year, 10 more than anyone else. Yes, Henderson is option A in this passing game, that’s great. But there are guys in this receiver room who can be explosive and dynamic after the catch and can contribute in a big way.
Braden Smith has some great playmaking ability to go along with the downfield ball-tracking skills that he’s put on display. Aaron Turner is one guy that should get some more looks and opportunities going forward. He’s a smaller speedster that can make people miss after the catch. He’s the perfect guy to get the ball too quickly and pick up 4-7 yards on first down, keeping the Cincinnati offense ahead of the chains and making drives more manageable. He’s got just five catches this year.
Converted quarterback Evan Prater has looked solid so far as well. Everyone around this Cincinnati program raves about him as an athlete. He’s shown that well in just four games playing a new position. There’s a decent chance Prater is the best athlete on the team. He has just six catches on the year, getting him a bit more involved could help the passing game out.
Cincinnati’s offense in the redzone is another whole conversation. It’s almost unbelievable how poor the team has been when getting inside the opponent’s 20. Finding some consistency in the passing game should help that out. The deep shots are fun, but utilizing some quick hitters will help this offense. Jones has a completion percentage of 62% right now, and that is pretty screwed by an 83% game in week one. Having more consistency there and pairing that with maybe some designed rollouts and Read Option looks plays to Jones’ strengths and can help this offense get going.
Cincinnati travels to Provo, Utah for a week five game against the BYU Cougars on Friday night at 10:15 EST. In a battle of new members of the Big 12, look for the Jones and the Cincinnati air attack to try to get going.