Cincinnati Passing Game
Whether helmed by Ridder or Bryant, the Bearcats will likely try to not fix what isn’t broken, and rely on their strong running game led by Michael Warren to open up the passing game. That air attack relied primarily on two things: short-and-mid-range passes, and relying on the brilliance of Michael Warren to take pressure off the quarterback and put the Cincinnati offense in short-yardage positions.
The first prong is particularly notable, as 210 of their 227 passes caught were short or mid-range completions. Fickell and company will surely hope that the bevy of skill players and a more mature Ridder will help open up the deep passing game. A deep passing game, however, relies on a stout offensive line to protect the QB while the route develops, and Cincinnati’s patchwork line may not be ready for the challenge when the Bruins defense arrives on August 29th.
The Cincinnati passing game will have to contend with UCLA’s defensive line and defensive backs, arguably the two strongest and deepest units on the team. Questions abound about whether UCLA can improve on its dreadful 2018 pass rush, which generated only 14 sacks and landed the squad 126th out of 130 Division 1 teams in terms of sack rate. Development of the defensive line starters Atonio Mafi, Otito Ogbonnia, and Osa Odighizuwa will certainly yield a few additional sacks, but UCLA will likely have to rely on pressure from its linebackers, particularly the hybrid OLB/DE rusher who against Cincinnati (due to the lack of Keisean Lucier-South) will likely be a combination of Josh Woods, Leni Toailoa, newcomer Jason Harris (who has flashed during fall camp), and walk-on Jayce Smalley (who has surprised coaches and fans alike with his grit and tenacity).
The defensive line of UCLA will face a rebuilt Cincinnati offensive line which returns a single starter from every 2018 game, senior right guard Morgan James. Expect massive redshirt freshman Lorenz Metz, a 6-9, 330 lb behemoth to play starter minutes, likely at the RT position. The other three positions should shake out between Jeremy Cooper, Chris Ferguson, Darius Harper, and Jakari Robinson. While most of the Bearcats’ soon-to-be starting line will have game experience, they will have to build a lot of chemistry in a short amount of time to handle what is expected to be a formidable UCLA front.
UCLA’s defensive backfield has experience, talent, and depth, and will likely more than hold its own against Cincinnati’s talented wide receiver corps and backfield. With the caveat that they faced a true freshman QB in his first outing, the secondary held Cincinnati to 100 passing yards and only 13 completed passes of an attempted 24, with no touchdowns yielded through the air. They will face a challenge in 2019 with a more experienced, decisive version of Ridder, and his returning skill players. The leader of UCLA’s defensive backs, however, may not be able to join the Bruins in Cincinnati. As of this posting, star UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes is still recovering from an undisclosed injury suffered during Fall Camp, and may not be able to suit up against the Bearcats. The latest word on his injury is that he is running on the sideline during practices and performing stretching routines with the UCLA training staff. UCLA fans all hope the 11 days remaining until gameday will allow Darnay to recover to full strength and bolster what is already a strong defensive backfield.