UC gets ‘incredible lesson’ from Navy

Cincinnati cornerback Arquon Bush, center left, celebrates with Ahmad Gardner (1) after intercepting a pass intended for Navy fullback Chance Warren, not visible, during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Annapolis, Md. Cincinnati won 27-20. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Caption
Cincinnati cornerback Arquon Bush, center left, celebrates with Ahmad Gardner (1) after intercepting a pass intended for Navy fullback Chance Warren, not visible, during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Annapolis, Md. Cincinnati won 27-20. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Credit: Julio Cortez

Credit: Julio Cortez

CINCINNATI -- Navy possessed the football for almost two-thirds of the 60 minutes during its American Athletic Conference game against the University of Cincinnati on Saturday.

The Midshipmen, running their unconventional triple-option offense, ran 84 plays to the visiting Bearcats’ 51, but finished with just a 37-yard advantage in total offense. The Bearcats also were flagged for 11 penalties, costing them 93 yards, while Navy committed just three penalties for 25 yards.

Those are classic trap-game figures, but Cincinnati somehow still managed to hold off determined Navy for a 27-20 win, leaving fifth-year Bearcats’ coach Luke Fickell feeling more relieved than pleased.

“Well, I’m glad that week’s over,” Fickell said before even being asked a question during his weekly media session on Tuesday. “All in all, no matter what, on both sides of the ball, you do find out a lot about yourself after a game with an academy, especially the Naval Academy, and on the road, you find out what you’re really made of, because some way, somehow, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Despite winning by only single digits for the first time this season, Cincinnati remained No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and moved up to No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches poll. The Bearcats, 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the AAC, will face Tulane (1-6, 0-3) in New Orleans on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon in what Fickell realizes could be another potential trap game. He’s hoping he and the rest of his program learned a lesson at Annapolis

“(It was) an incredible lesson for us as a program and us as coaches,” he said. “(It’s) an example that we’ll use for a lifetime, to be honest with you, and now it’s time to move on. We’ve got to continue to do a better job of handling all the things that come along with the successes or the wins and the attention that we’re getting as an individual and as program. For me, the message will continue to be stay humble and stay hungry.

“It’s always key to know what you’re walking into,” he added. “I think that’s where the maturity of our program’s got to take over – not just handling the outside things, but knowing every week what we’re going to walk into.”

Tulane knows what it will be facing this week, according to coach Willie Fritz.

“We have a great team coming in here this week,” Fritz said during his weekly media session. “I believe it’s the highest-ranked team to come to Tulane’s stadium in a long, long time. This is our fourth ranked team we’ve played, and I think the last time that occurred was in 1971, which kind of segues into the guys we’re honoring this weekend. They played on the ‘71 team, the first black football players to play here at Tulane. I’ve gotten the chance to know a couple of the guys, and we’re excited to be honoring them.”

Cincinnati is due to return home for a matchup with Tulsa (3-4, 2-1) on Nov. 6. As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, there were 27 tickets left for the game, according to gobearcats.com.

One key to Cincinnati’s win over Navy, now 1-6 overall and 1-4 in the AAC, was the play of a Bearcats’ defensive line led by sixth-year defensive tackle Curtis Brooks, who piled up a career-high 10 tackles, including seven solo stops and three tackles for losses while helping keep Navy’s offense under some semblance of control. Brooks also had a sack.

Third-year sophomore defensive lineman Jowon Briggs, a transfer from Virginia, and sixth-year defensive tackle Marcus Brown also played huge roles, Fickell said.

“I’ll tell you what,” Fickell said. “Our inside guys – Marcus Brown, Curtis Brooks, Briggs – they did an unbelievable job. For a lot of people who don’t understand and don’t know, I won’t get into the officiating of things, but it is a really nasty game inside there. Those guys, as much as anything, were the difference in obviously the rushing attack, and even a lot of those minus-yardage plays. Those guys were phenomenal.”

“We have a great group of leaders, a great group of seniors,” said senior quarterback Desmond Ridder, who overcame his first interception since Sept. 18 at Indiana to finish 18-of-30 for 176 yards and two touchdowns. “You talk about being frazzled and helping people calm down and staying under control. I think myself and the other seniors really do a good job of keeping the team calm and under control and to know what we came here to do and that’s obviously get a win.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Cincinnati at Tulane, Noon, ESPN2, 700

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