HUNTINGTON — There isn’t much deception to what Cincinnati’s football team will bring into Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday.
The Bearcats are going to run the ball downhill at Marshall with a power rushing attack, led by Michael Warren, who is a load at 220 pounds and has rushed for 220 yards so far this season. Warren’s backup is Tavion Thomas, who weighs 230 pounds.
“They have a few great running backs that definitely carry the load for the team,” Marshall cornerback Chris Jackson said. “They run the ball very well.”
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday did not mince words when looking at this week’s matchup.
“You have to be able to stop the run,” Holliday said. “That’s where it all starts. For them, that all started when Coach [Luke] Fickell was back at Ohio State with Coach [Jim] Tressel years ago. You want to establish the run, and they’re going to try to get that done.”
On the surface, Cincinnati’s numbers in the run game aren’t eye-popping. The Bearcats average 3.9 yards per carry and 172 rushing yards per game. Yet much of that number is skewed by the loss to Ohio State.
Cincinnati is coming off a win over Miami (Ohio) before its bye week in which it rushed for 234 yards on 48 carries while scoring three rushing touchdowns. The Bearcats were able to sustain their rushing attack, which opened up opportunities in the passing game.
That is an aspect that Holliday said the Herd must recognize.
“When you have the ability to run the ball like they can with Warren and that offensive line, it creates problems with play-action and that type of thing,” Holliday said. “You can try to get that extra hat in the box to stop the run and that’s when you’re one-on-one out there at the corner position.”
Cincinnati’s offense is built to use the run to set up shots down the field, which means Marshall’s secondary will have to win its one-on-one battles. Quarterback Desmond Ridder is a dual-threat quarterback who will use his legs to let things develop downfield in an effort to get the ball to two favorite targets — tight end Josiah Deguara (nine catches, 141 yards, two TDs) or Alec Pierce, a home-run threat at 21.1 yards per catch.
The key for Marshall’s defense will be stopping the Bearcats in early downs and forcing them into third-and-long situations, something that has given Cincinnati problems so far this season.
Cincinnati is converting just 36 percent of its third-down opportunities on the year, and Marshall is looking to improve its ability to get off the field.
“It’s going to be really important to make sure we stop them big on third down,” Marshall defensive tackle Channing Hames said. “We’ve just got to be better at that so we can get off the field quicker.”
Hames added that having experience against teams like Boise State, now ranked in the top-20 in FBS, and Ohio helps prepare Herd players for what they will see on Saturday from the Bearcats’ offensive line.
“They are a little more athletic maybe, but for the most part it’s nothing too much different than what we’ve seen before,” Hames said.
Holliday said that while Cincinnati’s offense is very solid in its execution, he also feels his defense is strong, which makes for an intriguing battle of strengths Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“We think we have a shot to be pretty good defensively,” Holliday said. “We’ll see. This team is probably pretty similar, talent-wise, to what Boise was. It will be a good challenge for us to line up defensively and see how far we’ve come.”
With both teams coming off a bye week, there will be wrinkles in the schemes, which lends itself to the importance of in-game adjustments. One thing to watch for will be coming out of halftime.
Cincinnati has been strong in the third quarter against opponents, outscoring them 28-17 after the break. Marshall was outscored 7-0 in the third quarter in each of its last two games.