(Photos Courtesy of James Ernest)
A win is a win, right? Things didn’t start off well for the Bearcats in Thursday’s tilt against the UT Martin Skyhawks; but, the bottom line was a 28-7 victory. Actually, saying that things didn’t start well may be a bit of an understatement. The young Bearcats trailed this game 7-6 at halftime and didn’t take the lead until late in the third quarter.
UT-Martin took the opening kick and worked its way down the field for a game opening TD, putting a bit of a damper on the Nippert Stadium crowd. The Bearcats were not able to break the goal line until late in the second quarter, when newly crowned starter Hayden Moore completed a pass to Devin Gray. Unfortunately, UC backup kicker Josh Pasley missed the extra point (following a missed 24-yard field goal to cap the Bearcats’ opening drive). Pasley was forced into duty thanks to starter (and potential Lou Groza candidate) Andrew Gantz missing the game with a pulled muscle.
Cincinnati finally overtook the Skyhawks late in the third quarter when Moore found Kahlil Lewis in the end zone for a three-yard TD pass. After the two-point conversion, the Bearcats had a 14-7 lead. This development certainly seemed to deflate the FCS-dwelling UT-Martin team. From this point on, it was all Bearcats.
The fourth quarter saw Mike Boone scamper into the end zone from a yard out to put the Cats up 21-7. A late interception by Tyrell Gilbert returned for a touchdown gave us our 28-7 final and sent the fans home happy.
Yes, a win is a win – but the 28-7 final can’t mask a few concerns. The Bearcats certainly looked less-than-impressive in the victory over an FCS opponent, residing on the wrong side of the scoreboard until the Lewis reception late in the third stanza. It appeared to me that the Skyhawks were tired in the fourth quarter, unable to hang with the larger Bearcats. There is no doubt that UC took UT-Martin’ best shot – and they wobbled; but, recovered.
What does this victory tell us? Quite honestly, I don’t think it tells us much at all.
One thing I know – I’m a bit concerned about this week’s game at Purdue. While the Boilermakers aren’t necessarily the top of the Big Ten, they are a far cry bigger and better than an FCS foe. UC will not be able to rely on wearing down Purdue, the Cats will definitely need to clean up their game. Moore and the gang will not be able to turn the ball over three times and stay in the game. The offensive unit will need to hold on to the ball and churn out yards in order to keep Purdue’s offense off the field. The o-line will have to do better opening up running lanes for Tion Green and Mike Boone. The offense has to step up the game, or this could be a long season.
All in all, I thought the defense played well. In order to win this coming weekend, this unit will need to play with high energy – flying around and forcing some turnovers. This side of the ball concerns me the least.
Tuberville absolutely has to get more from Moore and his offensive cohorts – not just in this game, but for the rest of the season. A win against Purdue would be a nice way to quiet some detractors – but will this team be able to do the work on the field? We shall see.