Cincinnati Bearcats’ linebacker Bryan Wright discusses the season-opener against UCLA.
Fletcher Page, fpage@enquirer..com
The University of Cincinnati began a second consecutive football campaign with win against UCLA, this time overwhelming the Bruins 24-14 Thursday night in front of a near-capacity crowd at Nippert Stadium.
The Bearcats nearly doubled UCLA in production (UC gained 412 yards, the Bruins 218), but two turnovers on potential scoring drives kept what could have been a lopsided victory much closer.
The Bruins pulled to within three points, 17-14, late in the third quarter.
Then a touchdown pass by sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder, who finished 18-for-26 for 242 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, to running back Michael Warren on the first play of the fourth quarter pushed UC ahead by the final margin.
Player of the game: Warren II
Warren finished with 92 yards rushing, 27 yards receiving and scored twice in the second half, once on a 12-yard third-quarter run and again on a 21-yard fourth-quarter reception. In his career, the junior running back has 290 total yards and five total touchdowns against UCLA.
Play of the game: Senior tight end Josiah Deguara both scored and stopped a touchdown in the first half. He found the end zone for the game’s first touchdown in the opening quarter on a 16-yard pass from quarterback Desmond Ridder. But the play that perhaps saved the game came in the second quarter when Deguara chased down Bruins cornerback Jay Shaw after Ridder’s goal-line pass attempt was picked off. Shaw likely would have scored without Deguara’s effort.
Welcome to the show: Ja’von Hicks had a noisy first career start in place of the injured James Wiggins. The sophomore safety and former Colerain High star had two costly penalties but also recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.
Props to… The Cincinnati defensive front for holding the Bruins to 1.8 yards per rush. Perhaps the Bearcats’ biggest question mark entering the season, UCLA managed just 62 yards on the ground, including minus-14 in the second quarter.
Next up: UC plays at No. 5 Ohio State Saturday, September 7. Kickoff is set for noon.
If you missed any of the action, here are the live updates from the game.
Hello from the press box at Nippert Stadium. Follow along here during the UC-UCLA season-opener with The Enquirer UC beat writer Fletcher Page for breaking news updates and commentary.
• A fumble recovery by UC defensive lineman Curtis Brooks should put this game on ice. Can’t say enough about the performance tonight by the Bearcats’ defensive front.
• The Ja’von Hicks roller coaster continues in his first career start in place of James Wiggins. He’s had two killer penalties, a fumble recovery and now an interception. UC can put this one to bed with a score on this drive.
— TOUCHDOWN Bearcats — Michael Warren strikes again, this time catching a short pass and running it in from 21 yards out. Warren did a hell of a job being patient after he caught the pass, setting up the pivotal block that sprung him for the score.
• UC 24, UCLA 14, 14:51 left in fourth quarter.
END OF THE THIRD QUARTER: UC 17, UCLA 14
• UC is driving and in position for the start of the fourth quarter for a much-needed score. The Bearcats’ offense turned to Michael Warren and Gerrid Doaks in the third quarter. Warren is up to 69 yards on 19 carries. Doaks has 53 yards on 10 runs.
— TOUCHDOWN UCLA — Dorian Thompson-Robinson 7 yards to wideout Chase Cota. Feels like the Bruins have no business being in this game. But here they are. A deep pass complete to Jaylen Elder quickly moved UCLA into scoring position, and a facemask penalty on Ja’von Hicks was the killer for UC on that drive. Hicks defended an option run really well right up until the hands on the helmet.
• UC 17, UCLA 14, 5:40 left in the third quarter.
— TOUCHDOWN Bearcats — Mike Warren runs it in from 12 yards out. Scoring drive: 5 plays, 30 yards, 2:43.
UC 17, UCLA 7, 11:44 left in third quarter.
• UC linebacker Perry Young breaks on a third-down pass for the interception. My hope is everybody who suffers a torn ACL can move like that 10 months later. UCLA’s first four plays of the second half: penalty on a short run, incompletion, interception. Woof.
HALFTIME: UC 10, UCLA 7
• The Bearcats dominated the first half, but two second-quarter turnovers killed likely scoring drives. A Desmond Ridder interception on a pass attempt from the 2-yard-line was the real head-scratcher. Just give Mike Warren the damn ball there. Other than that, Ridder was great. He finished the half 12-for-20 for 172 yards passing and a touchdown and a game-high 37 yards rushing.
How this for a surprise: The UC defensive front, probably the biggest question mark entering August, dominated UCLA’s offensive line. The Bruins had minus-14 rushing yards in the second quarter and just 13 for the game.
UCLA had 109 total yards in the first half, 75 coming on the long pass for the score. Other than that one play, Cincinnati’s defense has been dominant.
And don’t forget: It was tight end Josiah Deguara that made the tackle on UCLA’s interception return. That likely saved a touchdown. So the junior has scored a touchdown and stopped one.
• UCLA’s turn for a major break: UC’s Gerrid Doaks broke a big run but fumbled near the sideline. The Bruins recovered. So both teams have coughed up the ball while driving for scores.
— TOUCHDOWN UCLA — Dorian Thompson-Robinson to Demetric Felton for 75 yards. Ja’von Hicks missed the tackle shortly after the catch and Felton was gone. UCLA badly needed that. Scoring drive: 3 plays, 75 yards, :50.
• UC 10, UCLA 7, 8:23 left in second quarter
— FIELD GOAL Bearcats — Sam Crosa connects from 44 yards after a lengthy UC drive stalled out. Scoring drive: 10 plays, 32 yards, 4:27. Desmond Ridder is now 8-of-12 for 139 yards and a touchdown, including 4-for-6 on third-down throws for four first downs.
• UC 10, UCLA 0, 9:13 left in second quarter
— END OF THE FIRST QUARTER: UC 7, UCLA 0
• UC’s field goal issues from last season have carried over. Sam Crosa missed a 32-yard attempt after a decent drive by the Bearcats stalled. Crosa, a grad transfer from Western Illinois won the starting job with a solid training camp, but he’s off to a poor start.
— TOUCHDOWN Bearcats — Desmond Ridder 16-yard pass to Josiah Deguara. Alec Pierce set up the score with his first career catch, a 52-yarder down inside the red zone. That’s Deguara’s sixth career touchdown reception. Scoring drive: 6 plays, 83 yards, 3:09.
• UC 7, UCLA 0, 7:09 left in first quarter
• First UC break of the night: UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumbled, untouched, with the Bruins knocking on the goal line. Ja’von Hicks jumped on the ball for his first career fumble recovery. That redeemed the sophomore safety, who plays earlier extended the drive with a hands-to-the-face penalty.
• As expected, Ja’von Hicks starts in place of the injured James Wiggins. Hicks is a sophomore and former Colerain High star who Luke Fickell said came on strong toward the end of camp. Hicks brings speed to the secondary, but look for UCLA to test him early.
• Cincinnati received the opening kickoff and proceeded to have all kinds of trouble. Two false starts, two runs that went nowhere and a deep heave from Desmond Ridder to Rashad Medaris that fell incomplete. A pretty good punt by James Smith (you can count on that) helped limit the damage. UCLA takes over at its own 37.
• Caught up with Mike Aresco before kickoff. The commish says the AAC is preparing to file the waiver to drop football divisions and have the top two overall teams play for the conference title. Aresco said they’re working out the details for an eight-game, 11-team conference schedule and there’s no interest in adding a 12th team at this time.
• UC pushed hard for a sellout in the stands tonight for tonight, and the press box has seats reserved for AAC commissioner Mike Aresco and NFL scouts from the Bengals, Panthers, Jets, Eagles, Dolphins, Steelers and 49ers.
• UC captains: OL Chris Ferguson, OL Morgan James, TE Josiah Deguara, LB Bryan Wright, LB Perry Young.
— Talk about a buzzkill.
Cincinnati football will be without injured star safety James Wiggins in tonight’s season-opener against UCLA at Nippert Stadium, another terrible blow coming shortly after it was learned Bearcats’ running back Charles McClelland (torn ACL) was lost for the season.
Wiggins stood with teammates on the sideline on crutches about an hour before the game.
Still, UC remains a 4.5-point favorite after upsetting the Bruins on the road as 14-point underdogs in last season’s opener. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. ESPN has the broadcast.
Sophomore running back Tavion Thomas will also not play, Luke Fickell confirmed earlier this week, due to an undisclosed reason not related to an injury. Still, the Bearcats return quarterback Desmond Ridder, running backs Michael Warren II and Gerrid Doaks and a defense that’s expected to help UC contend for the American Athletic Conference crown.
And to kill time before kickoff, here’s your pre-game reading: