As the sting of a disappointing season and an unexpected defection have worn off through the summer months, the time has come. After 228 days, the Bearcats will take the field on Saturday against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at 3:30 at Historic Nippert Stadium. The first game in the Bearcats inaugural Big 12 Season should be a good litmus test for the season.
Unfamiliar Faces – Offense
Cincinnati #Bearcats release an "unofficial" two-deep depth chart ahead of Saturday's season opener against EKU.
No real surprises based on preseason. Corey Kiner listed as starter at RB, Evan Prater as second-string WR. pic.twitter.com/AMPdrCsEsJ
— Justin Williams (@Williams_Justin) August 28, 2023
Our beloved Bearcats took a blow when our former coach jumped around on his way to the Big Ten, but with him went a large portion of our roster. After the dust settled, we ended up with 38 new Bearcats on the roster, a host of which had “Power 5” Experience. A total of 9 of those players will get the starting nod this Saturday, including all 3 of the starting WRs. No group was hit harder than the WR room, but the dust has settled, the depth chart has been set, and we’re ready for football on Saturday.
Earning the starting job is Senior QB Transfer Emory Jones. A highly rated former Buckeye commit is a dual-threat style player who has high end arm talent along with the ability to run the ball. Coach Satterfield’s offense is rush heavy, so we should see Emory tote the ball a fair amount. Desmond Ridder averaged 608 yards his first three seasons at UC before focusing on the pass in his final year. I expect Emory to be in that same neighborhood this season.
The Offensive Line brings back returning starting Center Gavin Gerhartdt along with home grown LT John Williams (an Aerospace Engineering major). The other 3 starters are transfers, Dartanyan Tinsley, Luke Kandra (an Elder alumnus), and Kentucky transfer RT Deandre Buford. The new look Offensive Line has reportedly been pretty strong in fall camp, and I don’t expect them to be heavily tested this week against the Colonels.
The Tight End Group features a couple of contributors from the past few years, phenom Chamon Metayer looks to get the nod in run heavy sets and Payten Singletary is more of the in-line WR/TE Combo player. Chamon has been waiting in the wings behind two NFL level Bearcats, and this looks to be his opportunity to shine. Chamon is poised for a breakout season.
The overhauled WR room got a lot of attention over the summer and in fall camp. Chris Scott was the only player from that group who had caught a pass for the Bearcats. Dee Wiggins looked to be electric in the spring and slot receiver Braden Smith was the star of fall camp. Xzavier Henderson transferred in late, but seems to have locked himself in at the #2 receiver spot. Of note, former QB Evan Prater has earned the #2 spot behind Dee Wiggins, with Wiggins injury history, I expect Prater to get a lot of playing time this season. Will we finally get to see the highest rated offensive recruit in history impact the game?
— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) August 14, 2023
The Running Back room is full of returning players. Corey Kiner will get the nod to start, but Myles Montgomery and Ryan Montgomery will likely get heavy playing time with Ethan Wright getting carries in mop up duty. Satterfield’s Zone Rushing Offensive scheme should see a lot of carries and some home run hits. His teams average over 200 passing and 200 rushing yards per game.
All American Defense?
The Defense wasn’t hit nearly as hard with defections, but the Bearcats did add some incoming transfers to solidify that side of the ball. Coach Bryan Brown runs a similar attacking defensive philosophy to the Blackcats defense under our former staff. Coach Brown’s defense is relentless on the attack leading the NCAA in total sacks with 50 last year at Louisville and finished 3rd in turnovers. The defense will put 3 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers, and 4 defensive backs on the field in their base alignment.
The defensive line is anchored by pre-season All American Dontay “The Godfather” Corleone. This will likely be the big guy’s last season with the Bearcats with the NFL looming on the horizon. Flanked on either side of Corleone are Jowon Briggs and Eric Phillips, both of which are also looking to have a big season as they look toward the NFL. There is solid depth on the Defensive Line behind the starting 3, with Malik Vann, Dominique Perry, and Justin Wodtly as guy who have contributed in the past seasons. The Bearcats struggled with the run the past few seasons, it’ll be up to these 3 to lock the rushing defense down with a new look linebacker core behind them.
The new look Linebacker group is the major change on the defense this year, instead of 3 linebackers the Bearcats will run out 4 guys. Two of those position are hybrid players who play a mix of two different positions. The DOG position is a hybrid pass rusher Daniel Grzesiak from Utah State, one of the incoming transfers this season. He had 8.5 sacks last season for the Aggies. Opposite the DOG is the STAR, a hybrid linebacker defensive back that will get after the quarterback, but also drop back into coverage. Deshawn Pace gets the starting nod in a role that’s not too different from what he played last season. The key difference is the addition of another interior linebacker. Louisville Transfer Dorian Jones and the fastest player on the Bearcats Defense Jack Dingle will lock down the center of the field together.
The starting defensive backs are also full of familiar faces. Jordan Young, from Florida, will handle the boundary side of the field, while Sammy Anderson Jr will lock down the field side. The safeties are names you’ve heard on Carson Field before, with former CB Taj Ward handling the strong side of the field and hard hitting Bryon Threats manning the free safety position. Walk-on redshirt freshman Antwan Peek Jr (yes, son of that Antwan Peek) looks to get some run backing up Threats. If the defensive line continues to apply pressure, it could be a big year for turnovers from Taj and Threats.
Kentucky Fried Colonels
The Bearcats and Colonels have met twice in their history, 2006 and 2008, with both being Bearcats victories at Nippert Stadium. The Colonels finished last season 7-4 with a loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They did, however, steal a win from Bowling Green in a 7 OT thriller in week 2 last season. EKU features a prolific QB, but their offense lost a big chunk of their production from last year.
The Colonels feature 6th year QB Parker McKinney, who threw for 3956 yards, 33 touchdowns and 8 interceptions last season along with 354 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns. It’s clear that McKinney has talent and the Bearcats will have to apply pressure early and often to disrupt the Colonels Offense. I don’t expect the Colonels to sit back and try deep passes and slow developing plays, rather quick short passes that they hope can turn into big plays. It’ll be up to the defensive backs to keep those balls in front of them. McKinney has played on the big stage a few times, at Louisville twice and at West Virginia, but a sold out Nippert crowd could be a difference maker along with 315 lbs of Dontay Corleone screaming up the middle.
Defensively, the Colonels haven’t been very good. They allowed 447 yards per game and over 35 points per game. They allowed over 200 yards rushing per game and over 400 yards rushing in their last game in the FCS Playoffs and that’s with losing their 3 starting linebackers from last season. The Bearcats key to the game is going to wear them down with the run and get big plays over the top. I expect to see a heavy dose of rushing from the Bearcats on Saturday and well over 200 yards.
I don’t look for the Bearcats to do anything too exotic on Saturday, they have superior talent and they don’t want to tip their hand with a road game at Pitt the following week. The more talented team handles business and the reserves give up a late Touchdown that makes the game look closer than it was.
Cats – 42
Fried Chicken – 10