As we near the Michigan home opener against the Cincinnati Bearcats, I sat down with Phil Nueffer, of Down The Drive — the Cincinnati Bearcats SB Nation blog — to find out more information about this weeks opponent.
So sit back, pop a cold one, and get ready for this weeks feature of, Behind Enemy Lines.
Josh: What is the biggest difference between the former regime under Tommy Tuberville and the new head man, Luke Fickell?
Phil: Improved recruiting has really been the biggest change. We’ve only seen one game with Fickell at the helm and it wasn’t great, especially on offense, but recruiting has already seen a boost. The Bearcats currently have the No. 2 class in the American Athletic Conference for 2018 and they’ve attracted some big name guys like four-star defensive end Malik Vann. It’s also been good to see Fickell and his staff go after local guys more aggressively, especially in the Cincinnati area. That was something that was lacking under Tuberville.
Josh: What is the Bearcats biggest strength and weakness?
Phil: After the disappointing opener against Austin Peay (which hasn’t won a game since 2014), it’s tough to point out a strength. I suppose the defense deserves some credit, as it only allowed 313 yards, but the defensive line, which was supposed to be a strong point, got pushed around a little too much.
As for weaknesses, quarterback play is the big one. Hayden Moore is the starter and he just hasn’t impressed in his time as the No. 1 option. He threw three touchdowns last week, but he only finished with 151 yards passing, which is a shame since there are good receivers on the team in Kahlil Lewis and Devin Gray.
Josh: Who are 3 players Michigan fans should be on the lookout for, who could have a major impact on the outcome of the game?
Phil: On offense, running back Mike Boone is going to touch the ball a lot. He accounted for 109 yards against Austin Peay and is an explosive runner in the open field. On defense, linebackers Tyrell Gilbert and Perry Young are both extremely active and versatile since both are converted safeties.
Josh: For Cincinnati to win, what has to happen?
Phil: Michigan has to forget to show up? In all seriousness, Moore has to play the game of his life. I expect the Wolverine defense to key in on Boone and make him ineffective, so it will be up to Moore to keep the Bearcats within range since I expect the defense to have some trouble stopping the run.
Josh: What is something special (a tradition or fun fact) about the Bearcats that most people outside of Cincinnati aren't aware of?
Phil: UC is one of the oldest football programs in the country. Starting in 1885, only Rutgers, Michigan, Navy and Minnesota have been playing longer. In addition, UC played the first college football game in the state of Ohio, playing Miami-Ohio on Dec. 8, 1888. That rivalry still exists today and is called the Battle for the Victory Bell.
Josh: How do you foresee the Bearcats season going, and what do you think their record will be?
Phil: Before the season started, I thought they would show slight improvement over last year’s 4-8 misery, but after the opener I’m less certain. I am still hopeful that Fickell and his staff will be able to develop and adapt as the season goes on and that the team will find at least some semblance of a footing and finish 5-7.
Josh: Now for a fun/personal question… What is your best Cincinnati Bearcats memory?
Phil: My best Bearcat memory isn’t actually related to football. It is undoubtedly the run by the Bearcats in basketball in 2012. That team had guys like Yancy Gates and Sean Kilpatrick, two of my favorite Bearcats ever, and upset No. 13 Georgetown and No. 2 Syracuse in the Big East tournament before making a run to the Sweet 16.
Josh: Last question: What is your score prediction for Michigan vs Cincinnati?
Phil: Michigan 42 Cincinnati 6. It’s going to be a rough weekend.
I'd like to extend my thanks to Phil Neuffer for taking the time to answer my questions this week. For news, updates, and analysis of the Cincinnati Bearcats be sure to head on over to DownTheDrive.com.