The Cincinnati Bearcats' introduction to the Big-12 Conference has not been a good one, as it took them seven conference games to pick up their first conference win. Between their new conference and new coach, all of the momentum the Bearcats program built during their run to the College Football Playoff is now gone.
Cincinnati’s rough season will come to an end this weekend in West Virginia, and with the Mountaineers’ success at home, I think the Bearcats will find their way back to the loss column.
West Virginia saw a two-game winning streak end last weekend with a 59-20 loss in Oklahoma. Even with the loss, the Mountaineers will still be going bowling this season. By picking up wins over their last two games, the Mountaineers can also finish with their best conference record in the Neil Brown era, so there is still a lot for WVU to play for this weekend.
For a long time, the Big-12 Conference has featured air raid offenses, but West Virginia didn’t get the memo this season. The Mountaineers are 6th in the country in run play percentage, which has them averaging 203.8 rushing yards per game and ranked 36th in offensive success rate on rush plays.
Running back CJ Donaldson and quarterback Garrett Greene have formed an excellent duo out of the West Virginia backfield, combining for 18 rushing touchdowns this season. That duo will be put to the test this weekend against a Bearcats defense that is 34th in EPA per rush play and 49th in rushing yards allowed per game (140.2).
Cincinnati is also coming off their best defensive performance since week one of the season, as they held Houston to just 14 points on 241 yards. In terms of overall defensive EPA, the Bearcats are still ranked 84th in the country, so while their run defense has been strong, opponents have still been able to push the ball downfield against them.
Offensively, the Bearcats have run a similar style to the Mountaineers, as they are 9th in rush attempts per game and 23rd in EPA on run plays. While that style of offense has been able to produce a lot of yardage (419.3 YPG), that doesn’t always mean points, as they are still ranked 102nd in the country in points per game.
It’ll be Senior Day at Milan Puskar Stadium, and the West Virginia Mountaineers are currently listed as (-6.5) point favorites. Despite their struggles last week, I’ll be backing WVU for my play, as they are 4-1 SU at home this season. While their overall defensive numbers are not too bad, I think the Bearcats will struggle to stop the WVU offense from picking up explosive plays.
Cincinnati has allowed an average of 5.9 yards per play, and they rank 83rd or higher in average yards allowed per pass and per run. West Virginia might want to control the clock, but CJ Donaldson can certainly still pick up chunks of yards at a time. If Donaldson can establish his presence early and open the field, then Garrett Greene should be able to take advantage of a Cincinnati defense that is 107th in EPA on pass plays.
If the Bearcats can’t rely on their defense to produce a performance like they did last week, then they will likely struggle to stay in the game. Finishing drives is not a strong suit of the Bearcats, ranking 127th in red zone scoring. Both teams rank inside the top 15 in time of possession, so with fewer opportunities to score, I don’t think the Bearcats are consistent enough to stay in the game.
West Virginia (-6.5)(-110)