BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – For the second straight week, the University of Cincinnati football team took a punch in the mouth, stumbled, fell to the canvas, and then got back to its feet and finished the fight.
"They're uniquely finding ways (to win), and different than last year," Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. "Last year, it was – I think – a little bit more of an emotionally fired crew. But this year, it's – right now, so far from what I've seen – a little bit more of a poised, business-like approach, which is a little bit different. I'm not saying which one is better ... but right now, it's a more mature, positive, poised group."
Up next: UC has a bye next week before heading back to the state of Indiana on Oct. 2 to face No. 12/10 Notre Dame in South Bend.
What we learned from Saturday's win:
Poise, maturity are good, but the slow starts need to stop
It took an entire half last week for the Bearcats to figure out Murray State.
Cincinnati played the FCS opponent to a 7-7 tie at halftime, and should've fallen behind more, before ultimately pulling away from the Racers, 42-7.
The same slow start happened Saturday.
UC came up empty on its first six possessions against the Hoosiers (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten). Those possessions included two turnovers (an interception and fumble) by senior quarterback Desmond Ridder and four punts. Meanwhile, Indiana worked its way to a two-possession lead.
"You can say anything you want, but I think it really just comes down to how you practice throughout the week," Ridder said of the back-to-back slow starts. "If you go throughout practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and doing some things lackadaisical and some things full speed, what you do during the week is going to show up here on Fridays and Saturdays. So it's just being perfect through practice. I think it's going to show up on game days."
Indiana is certainly a more talented team than Murray State, and the Irish are a better team than the Hoosiers. How the Bearcats practice over the next two weeks will be crucial in determining how they'll start in South Bend.
"I mean, you saw the first half, there's a lot of things that we've got to do a lot better, especially if we're going to go on the road (at Notre Dame)," Fickell said.
Cincinnati's corners are really, really good
Indiana's Ty Fryfogle is one of the better wide receivers in college football. He didn't look like it on Saturday.
Graduate cornerback Coby Bryant and junior corners Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner and Arquon Bush completely shut down their men, including Fryfogle.
Fryfogle, who was Indiana's Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Year a season ago, managed just one catch for 13 yards on seven targets and had three drops against the trio of corners.
"They're just dogs. ... And those are two great players and they feed off each other too," Ridder said of Bryant and Gardner, the two 2020 first-team All-American Athletic Conference performers. (Gardner also earned 2020 AP second-team All-America honors as well as a first-team nod from the AP this preseason.)
Ridder has improved as a passer, but his legs art still lethal
UC's senior quarterback had 46 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries Saturday. That may not sound like a lot, but Ridder's gains on the ground were timely and crippling.
Ridder had a 10-yard run at the end of the first half that helped the Bearcats move the sticks and extend what wound up being their first scoring drive of the game. The nine-play, 75-yard drive was capped by a 6-yard Jerome Ford rushing touchdown. But that score doesn't happen without Ridder's legs.
Ridder had a 26-yard scamper in the third quarter that helped set up Ford's second rushing touchdown. That was part of a demoralizing 10-play, 79-yard Cincinnati drive that gave the Bearcats their first lead of the day, 17-14, with 5:47 left in the third quarter.
After Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw his third and final interception, Ridder put the game to bed on a 7-yard scoring run with 2:37 remaining in regulation.
"That's probably what scares defensive coordinators the most is having that aspect of the quarterback running," UC wide receiver Alec Pierce said. "He's a great all-around player, great thrower, but when he decides to run the ball, watch out."