Tulsa must limit turnovers at No. 21 Cincinnati

Field Level Media

October 15, 2019 at 5:15 pm.

No. 21 Cincinnati looks to extend its four-game winning streak and climb in the polls with its next four games coming against teams without winning records.

The Bearcats (5-1, 2-0 AAC) host Tulsa (2-4, 0-2) on Saturday, followed by games against East Carolina (3-3, 0-2), Connecticut (1-5, 0-3) and South Florida (3-3, 1-1) before hosting Temple (5-1, 2-0) on Nov. 23.

One major reason for the Bearcats’ success thus far is their turnover margin, which is at plus-6 following five takeaways in last week’s 38-23 win at Houston.

They have nine interceptions and five fumble recoveries this season. At Houston, turnovers led to 21 points, including Perry Young’s pick-six in the fourth quarter to seal the game.

“When the ball is in the air, that’s what you see different,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “We’re aggressive to go get it instead of just hoping that we can make a play.”

In Cincinnati’s last two wins, against Central Florida and Houston, both opponents had more total yards than the Bearcats. They also ran more plays and had a greater time of possession.

Cincinnati’s defense has been opportunistic, creating turnovers that stop sustained drives. The Bearcats rank No. 11 nationally in red-zone defense allowing only a 68.2 percent success rate.

“That’s important especially when you get to the red zone,” Fickell said of the timely takeaways. “I don’t know that we played quite as well — I don’t know that we did bad. … But when that end zone shrinks a little bit, when that field shrinks a little bit, a lot of these offenses that like to stretch the field vertically, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Tulsa’s defense, on the other hand, has struggled while surrendering 32.2 points per game. The Golden Hurricane have been vulnerable against the run, ranking No. 108 nationally allowing 203.5 yards per game. Cincinnati’s Michael Warren II, a junior with 463 yards on 101 carries, could be in line for a big day.

Bearcats sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder should have time to operate and get a good look at his receivers. Tulsa senior defensive end Trevis Gipson, a pass-rush specialist, has made four of the team’s five total sacks. Tulsa has intercepted only one pass this season.

Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry rushed for 218 yards out of the option offense in Tulsa’s 45-17 loss at home last week.

“For now, we have got to move past this one,” Golden Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery said after the loss.

“We’ve got an extremely tough schedule in front of us and know that against Cincinnati it’s going to be another tough one. So we have to get back on the practice field, learn from what we did, take away some of the good things. Defensively, you can really throw this one out because you don’t face this (option offense) again.”

Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith began his college career at Baylor. The junior has completed 125 of 225 pass attempts for 1,618 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He ranks third in the American Athletic Conference with 269.7 yards passing per game.

Cincinnati sophomore running back Tavion Thomas did not make the trip to Houston last week for an undisclosed reason. Thomas, with the second-most rushing yards (190) on the team behind Warren, also missed the season opener against UCLA for a violation of team rules.