If anybody knows about bitter football rivalries, it’s Luke Fickell.
The first-year University of Cincinnati coach got up close and personal with one of college football’s most intense rivalries during his 21 seasons as an Ohio State nose guard and coach. The Buckeyes’ annual matchup with Michigan is as grudgy as it gets.
Fickell gets his first taste of a scaled-down version of a rivalry that’s even older than Buckeyes-Wolverines on Saturday when his Bearcats travel to Oxford for the 122nd meeting with Miami.
“I’ve learned an incredible amount about what rivalries are all about, and I can tell you this,” Fickell said. “It’s not about who’s the most talented. It’s not about who schemed up who more. It’s really about preparation and practice. I want to make sure our guys understand that.
“Everybody will be fired up for Saturday. Both teams want to win. Both teams are going to be excited. There’s going to be incredible emotion and energy, but it’s really about the preparation. It’s really about our heart and soul. Who’s willing to sacrifice more? Who’s willing to fight and scratch and claw for it? That’s what it comes down to. You can say that about every game, but none more than a rivalry game. It’s really about respecting, not just the game, but the entire week and how you go about your business and the mindset that you have.”
Kickoff at Yager Stadium is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game is set to be televised by Ch. 19 in Cincinnati.
Miami (1-1), a 31-10 winner over Football Championship Subdivision Austin Peay in last Saturday’s home opener, has lost 11 straight games – a series record for both teams – in the “Battle for the Victory Bell” rivalry, but the RedHawks still lead the overall series, 59-55-7, including 14-11-2 in Oxford. Miami’s last win was a convincing 44-16 effort in 2005 – Shane Montgomery’s first season as the RedHawks coach – at Yager in which Josh Betts went 22-of-35 for 359 yards and three touchdowns and running back Brandon Murphy gained 120 yards and scored a touchdown on 20 carries. Martin Nance caught two touchdown passes and Ryne Robinson one, and Miami’s defense came up with five interceptions by five different players.
The Bearcats (1-1) are coming off a 36-14 loss at, ironically, Michigan in which they trailed by just 17-14 late in the third quarter before the Wolverines reeled off 19 unanswered points. Michigan scored two touchdowns on interceptions of junior quarterback Hayden Moore and two points on a safety when a snap sailed over freshman punter James Smith’s head and into the end zone. Smith ran back and batted the ball out of the end zone to keep the Wolverines from falling on it for a touchdown.
The Bearcats have struggled to establish an offensive rhythm, especially on the ground. They’re averaging 224 yards of total offense, including just 82.5 rushing.
“They have very athletic receivers,” Miami junior cornerback Deondre Daniels said. “They’re big and fast, and they all can block.”
Cincinnati’s playmaking defense already has forced seven fumbles and recovered three, giving the Bearcats a plus-two turnover margin. Miami is even in turnovers.
“Turnovers are huge every week,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “Winning the turnover battle from here on out is going to be crucial.”
“We’ve got to play our game,” Martin said. “They are a crazy athletic team at all positions. They have weapons on offense and weapons on defense. They play hard, and they play smart. They have plenty of things they throw at you defensively. It will be a mental challenge on the offensive side of the ball.
“If we play well in all facets of the game, we have a really good chance of being competitive and winning the game.”