No. 24 Cincinnati will continue to rely on its aggressive defense, which leads the country in several categories, when it hosts South Florida for its homecoming game Saturday.
The Bearcats (4-1, 1-0 AAC) have 23 sacks, 50 tackles for loss and four defensive touchdowns this season, more than any other Football Bowl Subdivision program in each category.
Cincinnati can thank a stellar performance against Tulsa last week, in which the Bearcats recorded 11 sacks to open conference play with a 31-21 road victory.
That tied the AAC record for most sacks in a game. No FBS team has eclipsed 11 sacks in a contest since 2019.
“I know people want to talk about sacks and things like that,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said, “but it all comes down to our ability to control the line of scrimmage, stop the run game and put ourselves in a lot better situation than we were in the last two years, to be honest with you.”
What’s more impressive is that the Bearcats weren’t all-out blitzing on every play. They dominated the line while sometimes sending just three or four rushers.
“I believe that gives everybody a lot of freedom and comfortability, especially with the linebackers,” said defensive lineman Jabari Taylor, who led the attack against Tulsa with 2 1/2 sacks as part of 3 1/2 TFLs. “With them knowing that we’re eating up blocks and such like that and consistently bringing pressure, that puts an ease on the guys in the back end who’ve got to run 40, 50, 60 yards every play.”
Running back Corey Kiner had his best game since transferring from LSU. He ran for a season-high 106 yards on 12 carries against Tulsa and scored a touchdown for the fifth straight game.
Meanwhile, the Bulls (1-4, 0-1) have only one win this season, against FCS opponent Howard in Week 2. They’ve lost to then-No. 25 BYU, then-No. 18 Florida (by three), Louisville and East Carolina (last week).
South Florida coach Jeff Scott insisted his team is better than its record says.
“We could’ve played some of the teams that other teams played in the nonconference, and we would have the exact same team we have right now, and we would be 3-2,” Scott said Tuesday. “But the message would be that we’re so much better, we turned the corner and here we go, we’re ready to go.”
The Bulls lost last week’s AAC opener to East Carolina 48-28 in a game that was moved from Tampa to Boca Raton, Fla., due to Hurricane Ian. South Florida trailed 41-7 at halftime, but Scott wanted to focus on his team’s attempts to make the game close.
“We gave up four touchdowns versus man coverage,” he said. … “If we can defend one of those better than we did, that’s one less touchdown they have, so that’s one play.
“And then let’s take the two series that we have inside the 5-yard line. There in the first half, first-and-goal at the 5, Gerry (Bohanon) is going in to score, the guy comes around, knocks the ball out, we fumble it. We get no points there.
“The last drive offensively, we’re going down to score, get five plays inside the 5, we think we get over the pylon, we don’t — we don’t score there. Well, that’s 14 points. So take away seven of theirs and add 14 of ours, and all of a sudden we’re leading the game by one with eight minutes to go.”
Cincinnati has won the past four meetings between the former Big East foes and leads the all-time series 12-7.