By Dan Sellers
On a mild autumn afternoon at Nippert, the embattled UC Bearcats looked to gain some footage against The 4-2 SMU Mustangs. Long after the SMU glory days, which boasted the likes of the great Eric Dickerson and Pony Express, the Mustangs finds themselves in a must win situation in order to continue to be germane in the AAC championship.
On the Cats’ very first drive, QB Haden Moore broke off a 60-yard keeper deep into Mustang territory. Three plays later he would call his own number, dashing up the middle once again for a UC TD. The success was short lasting when SMU would come back with a 70-yard TD drive of their own. Once again the Cats could not get off the field on defense because of mistakes and penalties. The Cats’ offense seemed to be dialed-in during the second drive until they stalled at the 11-yard line. UC settled for a field goal. The Bearcat defense continued to struggle during the first quarter committing two untimely pass interference penalties, which enabled SMU to complete scoring, drives. At the end of the first quarter the Cats trailed 10-14, subsequently showing no aptitude to stop SMU.
At the start of the second quarter freshmen tail-back Gerrid Doakes made his mark with a couple of runs including a 20-yard burst right up the gut of the SMU defense to keep the UC drive alive. Haden Moore looked to be on his game with back up Ross Trail looming in the back ground, completing a dart to wide out Tom Geddis to take the lead 17-14. On the next Mustang possession, the Bearcats defensive unit got in to the thick of things with an interception by Linden Stephens. The Bearcats quickly moved the ball down the field only to sputter again on the 4-yard line. Kicker Ryan Jones kicked a 20-yarder to advance the UC lead to 20-14. On the succeeding SMU drive the UC defense held up like a sieve. Poor DB play, including the continued lack luster play of safety Carter Jacobs, yielded a prompt TD retort from SMU bringing the score to 20-21. The defense held SMU for the first time of the contest to afford the Cats one more chance to take the lead at the half. Once again the super freshmen Doakes burst for a 46-yard run putting the Bearcats in striking range at the 11 yard line only to see Moore take a sack on the 21 yard line with 26 seconds remaining in the half. On the very next play, Haden went down again effectively putting them out of field goal range.
The Bearcats showed muster stopping the Mustangs at their own 30-yard line forcing a missed field goal attempt. Moore and the offense were able to move the ball to the 20-yard line when a familiar characteristic reemerged in the form of a fumble when Doakes mishandled a pitch from Moore. Cincinnati failed to take advantage of two scoring opportunities inside of the redzone, which would come back to bight them. With the defense playing much better, the 3rd quarter ended with the score still 21-20.
Haden Moore and the offense were in position to grab the momentum at the start of the 4th. After stalling once again, it was up to the Cats’ defensive unit led by DT Lendon Johnson. The Mustangs took little time in scoring with an eight play TD drive as QB Ben Hicks hooked up with all-world wide-out Courtland Sutton to make the score 28-20 with 6:26 to go. Down by 8 points, the Cats drove the length of the filed scoring a TD when Moore scrambled to his left and hit Devin Grey in the middle of the end zone. Needing an extra point to tie the game, he hit Grey once again to bring the score to 28-28 with 2:22 to play. Then the defense needed its first 3 and out series and got it forcing the Mustangs to punt with 53 seconds on the clock. With plenty of time for the Cats to maneuver down to field goal rang one would think you would go for the win. However Fickle elected to take the game into over-time after he ran Mike Boone twice. The Cats won the toss and chose to go on defense first. It appeared to be a wise decision after the Cats sacked the QB making it 4th and 30 yards to go. When poor defensive back play show up again as Hick, running for his life, floundered a pass toward the first down marker and completed it to continue the overtime drive. SMU settled for a field goal. Then one of the most bizarre plays in Haden Moore’s career happened. With UC already in field goal range, Moore was tackled when he tried to scoop a pass to Doakes who was blocking. The ball bounced in the air and into the arms of an SMU defender. The SMU LB was just as surprised to receive the game-winning gift. Needless to say, it was the worst turnover in his tenancy as UC QB.
Although the Cincinnati offense put up more than 430 yards on offensive, the bulk of it was on the ground. The passing game must improve. I think in light of this ending, Moore needs time to reflect while Trail takes a shot at the QB position. The defense has continued to struggle in key third and long situations. They have shot themselves in the foot with witless penalties to prolong drives all year. Fickle and his squad need to continue progress where they can find it, but sometime change is good.