After being forced to shut things down for a week and cancel a road game against Tulsa due to COVID-19, the Cincinnati Bearcats hope to get back on the field this week for a possible preview of the American Athletic Conference Championship Game down in Dallas. Cincinnati will take on the SMU Mustangs.
The preseason AAC favorites are off to a good 3-0 start on the strength of its defense, but that defense will be put to the test this week against the Mustangs. This is the fifth time that these two schools have faced off but the first time that either — let alone both — has been ranked.
No. 9 Cincinnati at No. 16 SMU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: SMU -2.5
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
The Cincinnati offense starts with quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has six touchdown passes but has been intercepted four times in three games this season. Ridder also contributes to the running game, with 71 rushing yards to help mix things up on the ground. Senior Gerrid Doaks has led the running game with 145 yards and four touchdowns (plus two more receiving touchdowns) so far this season, but Cincinnati is spreading the ball around in the running game. Charles McClelland and Jerome Ford have combined to take half of the team's carries.
For Cincinnati to succeed, though, it will have to get some yards through the air against an SMU pass defense that ranks 42nd nationally in total defense (407.4 ypg) and 38th in pass defense (237.0 ypg). Receivers Jayshon Jackson and Michael Young Jr. are perhaps best primed to take advantage of that opportunity, but no Bearcats receiver has registered double-digit receptions through three games yet.
When SMU Has the Ball
There is no question Sonny Dykes has his system in place at SMU. The Mustangs are leading the AAC with 10.0 yards per pass attempt. The former Texas Longhorn Shane Buechele has found himself in a very promising spot with 1,710 passing yards and 12 touchdowns this season, with just two interceptions. SMU will have to keep things moving through the air without a big piece of that equation following a season-ending knee injury to receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. a few weeks ago against Memphis. Receivers Rashee Rice and Danny Gray will be ready to do their part as they have been racking up big numbers of their own.
Cincinnati's pass defense wasn't stellar last season, and their stats this season are helped by playing one of their three games against Army. Cincinnati's pass defense could be in for a long night. One bright spot has been turnovers; they are tied for fifth nationally with seven interceptions, and Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant, and Arquon Bush each have two.
This is a difficult spot for Cincinnati to enter. SMU has its offense rolling and gets the opportunity to play at home as Cincinnati is coming off an abrupt bye week due to a COVID-19 issue within the program. How in-sync can Cincinnati be against a team that will do all it can to keep things moving quickly and with big plays through the air? SMU's pass offense could be a decisive advantage here as the Mustangs start to make their own case for being considered for a spot in the New Years Six lineup at the end of the year. In a possible preview of this year's AAC Championship Game, SMU could stake a claim to getting home-field advantage later on.
Prediction: SMU 38, Cincinnati 26
Podcast: Week 8 Preview and Predictions