The University of Cincinnati football team was supposed to win by a lot on Saturday, and it did.
Entering the 125th Battle for the Victory Bell as more than a 22-point favorite against rival Miami University, the No. 8/10-ranked (Associated Press/Coaches) Bearcats led the RedHawks 35-0 at halftime and wound up with a 49-14 season-opening victory.
"The big thing for me all week was respect the rivalry," Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. "That’s how you prepare, that’s really how you come out and play. ... Hopefully, you can see this team, this group of leaders wasn't gonna let this team not be ready for a rivalry game."
Up next: UC will host Murray State on Sept. 11. The Racers are members of the FCS' Ohio Valley Conference.
What we learned from Saturday's win:
Desmond Ridder is officially a dual-threat QB
On the second play from scrimmage, the Bearcats scored on an 81-yard touchdown connection between fifth-year senior quarterback Desmond Ridder and sophomore wide receiver Tyler Scott.
The deep pass was the longest completion of Ridder's career and the most telling throw of his very young season.
Ridder said he noticed from studying film on the RedHawks that they like to put one safety deep in the back end of their defense. But on that play, he noticed there were two safeties deep for Miami. That defensive alignment made an alarm go off in Ridder's head. He knew he needed to hit Scott on a deep post.
"Coach Gino (UC passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli) always told me to look to post on the two high (two deep safeties)," Ridder said. "They went to two high out of nowhere. We don't know really what made them get to two high because it's not something that we thought would make them go to two high. So that kind of put a little smile on my face when I did see it go to two high. And then I just put a ball for Tyler to go get it."
The ball was perfectly thrown by Ridder, hitting Scott in stride. It was a throw that showed Ridder's strength and arm talent. It was a throw that showed Ridder's growth as a passer and his improvement in reading opposing defenses.
It was a throw of a first-round NFL draft pick.
Have no fear, the 'Blackcats' are still here
With the departure of former defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to Notre Dame in January, a question surrounding Cincinnati entering this season was what will the Bearcats look like under new defensive coordinator Mike Tressel?
Well, the answer is a lot like they did under Freeman.
Outside of a few mental lapses in the second half that caused UC to lose the shutout, the Bearcats looked like the same defense that has been the top-ranked unit in the American Athletic Conference over the past three seasons.
UC's FBS-long active streak of games with a forced turnover ended Saturday at 20 games. But Cincinnati still put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and had the same stingy secondary.
"I told him as we left, I said, 'Don't let me bring you down because I can get a little greedy there late in the fourth quarter when they hold the ball for five or six minutes,'" Fickell said of Tressel.
The Cincinnati defense held the RedHawks, who were without injured quarterback Brett Gabbert (2019 Mid-American Freshman of the Year), to 278 total yards of offense (130 yards in the first half). But more importantly, Miami finished just 1-for-3 in the red zone, 3-for-15 on third down and 1-for-5 on fourth down. It was the energy and effort Fickell wanted to see from the UC defense now under the guidance of his longtime friend.
"It was really comfortable," Fickell said of coaching with Tressel, who spent the past 14 seasons at Michigan State before joining Fickell's staff in January. "When you're in the meetings 90-something percent of the time, I think you've got a good grasp of what everybody knows, what everybody thinks. But until you really go through adversity with people, I think there's a lot of things to figure out. ... But it was really smooth, it was really pretty comfortable."
Ready or not, here comes Jerome Ford
Running back Jerome Ford was one of the standout performers in Cincinnati's loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Day. Ford exploded for 98 yards against the Bulldogs, including a 79-yard touchdown run.
On Saturday, Ford picked up right where he left off in Atlanta.
Ford ran all over the Miami defense, racking up 121 yards on eight carries. Ford had a 50-yard run and a score from 21 yards out.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior from Tampa, Florida, continues to show why he was initially a prized recruit of Alabama before transferring to Cincinnati.