The 5-0 Bearcats, who moved up on Sunday to a program-best No. 3 in the weekly Associated Press Top 25 poll, can take another step toward that goal with a win in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference game against the Knights.
UCF, in its first season under former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, improved to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the AAC with a 20-16 win over East Carolina on Saturday. The Knights average 36.9 points and 469 yards of total offense per game, despite losing quarterback Dillon Gabriel to a broken clavicle vs. Louisville on Sept. 17.
“I think they are a very talented football team,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “They still have a lot of skill. I think they’re really strongest up front with some veteran guys on the O-line and D-line. They have a new coach in Malzahn in his first year, but it’s not his first rodeo. He’s done this for a long time. I think they’ve had to adapt and adjust offensively with a new quarterback a little bit. I don’t think they’ve changed who they are, and I think defensively, in my mind, they’re a much more sound team than they were the last couple of years, and with the players they’ve got, it makes them really difficult.”
Cincinnati is coming off an impressive 52-3 win over Temple on Friday in its AAC opener. Running back Jerome Ford was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 149 yards and two touchdowns against the Owls, helping the Bearcats take over the conference lead in scoring with an average of 41.0 points per game. Cincinnati also has the AAC’s stingiest defense, allowing an average of just 12.2 points per game.
Fickell admitted he wouldn’t mind seeing Ford, a transfer from Alabama, get more touches and help improve the Bearcats’ balance while taking some pressure off of Ridder. The problem is, Fickell doesn’t get too involved in the game day play calling.
“They don’t always listen to me,” he said with a laugh. “No, I think that’s what those guys do a great job of, and that’s what Des has done a great job of is being able to handle the balance to that. Just where we’ve grown as an offense, I think we’re still better when we have a chance to move the ball and not be as one-dimensional as maybe we had to be in the past. Like anything, there’s a balance to all that you’ve got to do if you want to do it well.”
What’s more on Fickell’s mind is how his team handles the glare of the spotlight sure to be thrown on the program after rising to the highest ranking in program history.
“I think, for us as a team and as a program, it’s really about how we’re going to handle this attention and things that are going on,” he said, “We’ve been good about handling the attendion and some of the buzz, and it will be a big deal for us to continue to handle some of the attention and some of the buzz. The maturity of this team is going to have to contine to grow. They’ve done a really good job so far, but we’re only five games in.”
UCF at Cincinnati, Noon, ABC, 700