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UCLA Football Preview: Can the Bruins Stop the Bearcats’ Running Game?

With Cincinnati’s top three rushers returning, the Bearcats are definitely going to give the Bruins a run for their money.

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NCAA Football: Cincinnati at UCLA
The UCLA defense will need to stop Cincinnati running back Michael Warren II when the teams meet on Thursday night.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Game Week!

It’s finally here, the start of the college football season, and fans couldn’t be happier. With that, we will be breaking down the UCLA Bruins’ first opponent, the Cincinnati Bearcats, position by position in previews this week. In this preview, we’re going to look at the Bearcats’ offense and what the Bruins are going to have to defend in order to right the wrongs of last year’s season opener.

Quarterback

Cincinnati returns redshirt sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder and, while he put together a remarkable year, he actually didn’t have a sensational game at the Rose Bowl by any stretch of the imagination. He had 163 total yards and no touchdowns, but he had no interceptions and was able to keep the team alive. His completion percentage was 54% and pretty much remained the same the following week but, by season’s end, he had upped that to 62.4% and notched a total of 20 touchdowns. He had 2,442 yards in the air and 572 on the ground, so expect to see a different Ridder on Thursday than you saw last year. He’s a veteran with an 11-2 season under his belt. So, while UCLA may be much improved, expect Cincinnati’s quarterback to also be improved. He only had five interceptions last year. So, don’t expect a host of turnovers from this position.

Offensive Line

The Cincinnati front line allowed 25 sacks last year, good for 50th among all FBS schools. The UCLA defense will definitely have a fighting chance to get to Ridder if they fight hard enough and they may have a slightly better chance as there has been some movement on the Bearcats’ offensive line. Senior left tackle starter Chris Ferguson sat out practice last week due to heat-related issues. Redshirt freshman Lorenz Metz was taking reps on the left side in his place and sophomore Vincent McConnell moved in at right tackle. Ferguson should be available on Thursday. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Cooper is expected to be on the left at guard and redshirt sophomore Jakari Robinson should be anchoring the line at center. On the right side, graduate Morgan James should get the start at guard. He played in all 13 games last year.

Running Backs

The Bearcat rushing game was a jewel in their crown last year, as they ranked 15th in the country and put together 3,113 yards on the ground. 38 rushing touchdowns later, which was good enough for 8th in the nation, Cincinnati had the best run game in their conference. All of the top Bearcat rushers from 2018 are returning. So, stopping the run game is going to be key on Thursday.

Michael Warren II was Cincinnati’s top rusher last year with 1,347 yards and 19 touchdowns for the season. He’s quick and can change directions on a dime. Both the defensive line and the secondary are going to be working hard to contain this guy. He can easily break a run off and averages over five yards per carry. He actually had one of his best games of the season at the Rose Bowl last year, hanging 142 yards on us.

Along with Warren, sophomores Tavion Thomas and Charles McClelland will be back in action. While Thomas missed three games, he still had 500 yards for the year and punched in six touchdowns. McClelland wasn’t far behind with 495 yards and four touchdowns of his own. So, it’s pretty clear these Cincinnati running backs are going to be the group to watch.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Cincinnati will be replacing Kahlil Lewis, their top receiver from 2018. He led the Bearcats in receiving yards for three years in a row and signed with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this year as an undrafted free agent.

Filling his shoes will be senior receivers Rashad Medaris and Thomas Geddis, as well as tight end Josiah Deguara. Medaris had 26 receptions for 472 yards in 12 games last year. While he doesn’t quite stack up to Lewis yet, if you combine him with Geddis and Deguara, Ridder has quite a group to choose from. Additionally, Warren had 232 reception yards last year. So, he’s a threat in the passing game as well.

Analysis

This is not going to be any kind of cupcake opener. Later this week, we’ll take a look at the Cincinnati defense and see what kind of chance the UCLA offense will have against the Bearcats, but one thing is for certain. The Cincinnati offense is no joke especially their running game. Warren is capable of putting up video game statistics. So, the UCLA defense is going to have to be on point to be successful on Thursday. The question is: Will the UCLA defense be improved enough to stop him and the other Bearcat rushers?


Go Bruins!