PHOTO: SCOTT REED
WHEN: THURSDAY 8/29/2019 7 p.m. ET
WHERE: NIPPERT STADIUM
LAST MEETING: 2018 – CINCINNATI WIN 26-17
Luke Fickell and the Cincinnati Bearcats ruined the debut of Chip Kelly at the helm of the UCLA Bruins in his return to college football last season with a 26-17 win.
The Bearcats would go 11-2 on the season with a bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Kelly and the Bruins found the going tough finishing 3-9 on the season. However, the team the Bearcats found a year ago will not be the same as the group that will enter Nippert Stadium on Thursday night.
Kelly is a proven winner, and many feel the Bruins turned a corner late last season when they almost knocked off Arizona State, beat USC and came close to knocking off Stanford.
How different were the Bruins in their first few games last season to what they became late in the year?
After their first four games, UCLA struggled on offense with an average of 17 points a game and 312 yards of total offense. However, Kelly got the Bruins offense in gear with over 400 yards of total offense in six of their final eight games of the season. With the increase in production came more points on the scoreboard and in their final four games the Bruins averaged 31 points a game.
The Bruins return eight players with starting experience on offense including four along the offensive line led by center Boss Tagaloa. Running back Joshua Kelley rushed for over 1200 yards last season and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who the Bearcats sacked four times a year ago, returns as the clear starter with Wilton Speight gone.
The Bearcats must pressure Thompson-Robinson and keep Kelley in check. They must also play physical football and take advantage of any mistakes the Bruins make.
On defense the Bruins return six players with starting experience with the star being junior defensive back Darnay Holmes. While they have solid players at linebacker and in the secondary, the play along their defensive front looks to be their main weakness. Last season the Bruins struggled to get a pass rush with only 15 total sacks.
For the Bearcats even bigger things are expected in 2019 with some marque matchups on the schedule. The return of Michael Warren II and Desmond Ridder gives Fickell the key ingredients needed for a successful offense. However, much like last season, the big question lies with the play of the Bearcats offensive line. Offensive line coach Ron Crook is considered one of the best in college football and proved that a season ago. Now, he’ll need to prove it again if the Bearcats are to have another big year.
Tackle Chris Ferguson and Morgan James are the mainstays along the line. Ferguson will move to the left side after starting 12 games at right tackle in 2018. Sophomore center Jakari Robinson received valuable experience last season and will be looked upon to anchor the line at center.
The biggest move a year ago was the play of the Bearcats defense. Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman did a great job last season, and many expect the defense to take another step forward. There are some questions surrounding the status of safety James Wiggins and that brings worry in the secondary. However, the biggest question for the Bearcats defense is up front as they look to replace three starters.
PREDICTION: This is a hard one to pick as we really like what Fickell and his staff are doing with the Bearcats program. We expect Nippert Stadium to be rocking and the crowd giving the Bearcats an edge. However, we also worry Kelly might have things on the upswing with the Bruins on offense. Home crowd, solid running attack and a defensive flying to the ball allows us to give the Bearcats a season opening win over the Bruins. 29-24.