Seventh-ranked Bearcats buoyed by sold-out Nippert

Cincinnati tight end Leonard Taylor, a Springfield High School grad, scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Miami (Ohio), Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Caption
Cincinnati tight end Leonard Taylor, a Springfield High School grad, scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Miami (Ohio), Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

CINCINNATI -- Seating capacity at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium is listed as 40,000, and even though attendance for Saturday’s 49-14 Victory Bell win over arch-rival Miami was reported as 37,978, it was regarded as a sellout based on the number of tickets sold.

Full or a bit short, it didn’t matter to the seventh-ranked Bearcats, who were gratified to play in front of fans who weren’t cheerleaders, band members or family members.

That was the pandemic-fueled situation last season, and while Cincinnati did a great job in 2020 of creating an atmosphere that was as raucous as possible, it wasn’t the same as having diehard fans cheering their hearts out for the Bearcats.

“Just seeing Nippert Stadium full, it was a blessing,” fifth-year senior quarterback Desmond Ridder said after the game. “We take it for granted, you know, all the fans being here or even some fans being here, but it’s great to see all the fans come out. I think we had a sold-out crowd and we plan to sell out all the other games. We’re excited, not only for what they did out there but for what they’re going to do in the future.”

UC announced a few days before the seasonopener that the program had sold more than 22,000 season tickets – a record. Student season ticket sales surpassed 6,000 – also a record.

“Our program appreciates our student body,” fifth-year Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said Tuesday during his weekly media session. “Last week was phenomenal. I know some people think we’re overblowing it, but I don’t think we are, especially after what happened last year. After not having that support, I know the players were excited to play, but they were more excited to have that support.”

The Bearcats are anticipating more of the same this Saturday, when they face Ohio Valley Conference-favorite Murray State in a non-conference game scheduled to kick off at 3:30 p.m. The Racers posted their first shutout since 2011 with a 39-0 win over Mississippi Valley in their seasonopener.

Ridder, the 2020 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, was named on Tuesday as a Peyton Manning Award Star of the Week and one of the Davey O’Brien Award’s weekly Great 8 after passing for four touchdowns and running for one against the RedHawks. He finished 20-of-25 for 295 yards, including a career-long 81-yard touchdown strike to sophomore wide receiver Tyler Scott on the second play of the game.

Eleven different Cincinnati players caught at least one Ridder pass.

“I’m seeing things a lot better,” Ridder said. “We’re having a lot more player meetings where it’s starting to slow down for a lot of other guys, too. They’re starting to see things a lot easier.”

“Credit Desmond Ridder,” Fickell said. “He has the ability to move things around. What it does show is his growth in taking what is given to you. That’s where the real maturity of a quarterback is shown.”

Junior running back Jerome Ford, in his second Cincinnati season after transferring from Alabama, added 121 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, pacing a running attack that piled up 247 yards, just 48 fewer than the Bearcats’ passing yardage in a balanced attack.

“You can get used to seeing 2-4 carrying the ball,” Ridder said of Ford, referring to his uniform number. “That’s a great player. He’s going to be a big-time player for us.”

Fickell isn’t ready to call Ford UC’s “feature back.”

“I don’t know if you’re ready to say he’s a feature guy with only 12 carries, but with 12 carries, we saw what we needed to see,” the coach said. “In this program, we’re not quick to anoint him anything until he does it over time. He’s done a great job, and if we get into a situation where he has to carry it 25 times in a game, we’ll know more about what we’ve got.”

Perhaps the only downside for Cincinnati was not coming up with a turnover, snapping at 20 a Football Bowl Subdivision-leading streak of consecutive games with at least one interception or recovery of an opponent’s fumble.

“We always want to have turnovers,” fifth-year senior linebacker Darrian Beavers said after the game. “We think turnovers change games. We got lucky today that we could still win the game without getting turnovers. I know that’s a big part of our defense, but winning is what matters the most. As long as we win, it doesn’t matter.”

“The opportunities were there,” Fickell pointed out. “We didn’t do a good job of taking advantage. There were some opportunities that were missed, but we’re not putting an overemphasis on it. There are things we can do to make sure they’re prepared when the ball hits the ground.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Murray State at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+