The Cincinnati Bearcats are back in action on Friday night this week as they head to Provo, Utah to take on the BYU Cougars. A late 10:15 EST kick-off between two of the four new members of the Big 12. Cincinnati got the year started in a great way, but has dropped two in a row since. The first was a rivalry game against Miami Ohio, then they succumbed to the Oklahoma Sooners in a 20-6 defeat at home.
This is a prime opportunity for the Bearcats to get back on their horse and start building some momentum as the season ramps up. However, this is no small task for the skidding team. Provo is one of the more difficult places to play in the country. Plus, Cincinnati gets to make the trip on a short week, across time zones. Body clocks and elevation are also factors that the coaching staff needs to help prepare for.
The Cougars come into this game with a 3-1 record. They had an impressive road win at Arkansas in week three, followed by a 38-27 loss at Kansas last week to open up conference play. Here are some tendencies and players to be on the lookout for from BYU against Cincinnati this Friday night:
Veteran Quarterback Leads the Offense
Fifth-year quarterback Kedon Slovis is under center in his first season at BYU. Slovis burst onto the college football scene a few years ago at USC as a true freshman. He went for over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2019, by far his best season. Since then he’s been up and down. He spent two more years at USC, then an underachieving year at Pitt, and now he’s off to a solid start this year at BYU.
The veteran player is very much a pocket passer. He has very minimal ability to scramble or elude pressure when the pocket collapses. This plays to the hand of Dontay Corleone and the Cincinnati defensive line. Slovis has just over 1,000 yards passing, eight touchdowns, three interceptions this year with a 60% completion percentage mark. He averages 235 passing yards per game. About 70% of those yards are isolated to three main guys in the passing game.
Tight End Isaac Rex is the leading receiver for the team. With 17 receptions, 260 yards, and a score, expect to see a lot of 11-personnel for the Cougars. The two other main threats in the passing game are wide receivers, Chase Roberts and Darius Lassiter. 18 and 17 receptions for 200+ yards respectively for those two.
The Rushing Attack
The BYU rushing game is led by true freshman LJ Martin. He’s been the workhorse guy for them this year. Martin has 56 attempts and 223 yards so far. He’s accounted for 91% of the Cougars rushing yards this season. Aidan Robbins and Deion Smith might see some carries but expect to see a lot of action from Martin on Friday night.
The defense for BYU is led by rangy linebacker, Ben Bywater. He’s a fairly high-quality player who will be swarming the ball no matter the play type. Bywater has 32 total tackles and one sack this season. He’s accompanied by AJ Vongphachanh who has 24 tackles on the year. Defensive End Tyler Batty is the biggest pass rush threat off the edge, he’s posted a team-leading 25 sacks this season. Cincinnati tackles will help to stay in front of the BYU edge defender this weekend.
The defense sits at 18th in the country in pass yards allowed per game. An ode to the secondary lead by Jakob Robinson and Ethan Slade. With a slumping Cincinnati offense, that’s not great news for the Bearcats.
Keys to the Game
Lean on the Rushing Attack
Look for Cincinnati to establish the run early in this one. The passing game has been poor for the most part, but Cincinnati has some quality backs that can carry the load against the BYU front. Last week it did not produce, perhaps the reason why they threw it 41 times for little success. Corey Kiner and Ryan Montgomery should be fresh. The BYU defense ranks 75th in the country in allowing 146 rush yards per game. It would be nice to either see the typical run game get going, or some play types that are extensions of the run game like quick hitters, RPOs, and screens.
The BYU offensive line has an NFL guy at left tackle. Kingsley Suamataia anchors the blind side for Slovis. Eric Phillips will be matched up over Suamataia a lot, it won’t be an easy matchup but it’s one that I’d expect to see Phillips get some wins in. Suamatatia is a monster of a man but has poor hand usage and minimal play strength. Phillips and others can take advantage of that.
The pass rush wasn’t great a week ago against Oklahoma for UC. They had just two sacks. The aggressiveness wasn’t quite there like it had been in games prior. Expect to see defensive coordinator Bryan Brown to dial up more pressures to make Slovis mobile and force him to weaknesses in his game. Dontay Corleone, Jowon Briggs, and Daniel Grzesiak could see some bounce-back production this week.
The Bearcats open up as 2-point, road favorites in this Friday night matchup. A bit of a surprise to some. The Cougars are a bit banged up, so that might be a big factor there. Cincinnati is almost the opposite. Coach Scott Satterfield said in his weekly presser that all of the guys who went down last week are expected to play Friday. Linebacker Deshawn Pace wasn’t out with an injury last week but was due to suspension because of a team rules violation. He’ll be back this week.
Cincinnati looks to break their two-game skid on Friday night against BYU in Provo. It should be a great environment, and the spread indicates a close game. It will be a fun one in Utah and a situationally very important one for Cincinnati.