On a recent social media video posted by the University of Cincinnati, junior running back Jerome Ford wore a microphone in practice and repeatedly reminded teammates to "eat your vegetables".
On a sun-splashed Saturday at Nippert Stadium, Ford saw plenty of green, chewing up the home turf for his fourth 100-plus yard game of the season. The 215-pounder had 189 yards rushing and four touchdowns as the Bearcats bashed UCF's Knights 56-21.
Though he broke a 79-yarder, Ford prefers the up close and personal trudges through the trenches.
"I feel the physical runs take the heart of the defense," Ford said. "I think when O-line drops the defensive line and we break tackles that takes the heart."
As for heart-healthy vegetables, he goes for cucumbers, mixed in vinegar with some salt and pepper.
"That's my secret," Ford said.
UC (6-0) won its third straight game against future Big 12 mate UCF and the 24th in a row at Nippert Stadium. As for the AAC, it was the ninth consecutive league win dating back to the 2019 conference championship. That said, the locker room apparently wasn't as celebratory as it was two weeks ago when the Bearcats won at Notre Dame.
"I reminded those guys this is a far cry from where we were five years ago," UC coach Luke Fickell said, referring to a rain-shortened 51-23 thrashing UCF gave the Bearcats in 2017. "The guys that have been here for five years, the Desmond Ridders, Myjai Sanders, Joel Deblankos kind of turned this program and this culture around."
Ford scored 24 of UC's 35 points by halftime and began receiving endorsements from the ABC television crew for Heisman to go along with the accolades already received by senior quarterback Desmond Ridder.
With Ford rolling, the Bearcats didn't have to go to the air as much. Ridder finished 13-for-23 for 140 yards and a touchdown to Alec Pierce. Ryan Montgomery added 95 yards on the ground playing in the fourth quarter.
"He makes my job a whole lot easier," Ridder said. "When you have five or six huge guys up front that do their job and move the line of scrimmage, it makes it easier for both of us. In the locker room, there's not much Heisman talk. We're a team. We're about team goals and team achievements. But, Jerome Ford is a player now."
The Bearcats outgained UCF 476-296 and outrushed them 336-155, many coming off the sturdy legs of Ford. Coach Fickell expects there could be more grinding for No. 24 to come.
"He's just getting stronger and stronger," Fickell said. "He hasn't had to have that game where he's had 30-some touches. At some point in time, it's probably going to have to happen. I don't worry or bat an eye that he'll be able to do it."
UCF freshman quarterback Mikey Keene started the game in the closed end of the horseshoe of Nippert next to the UC student section equipped with noisemakers. The drive ended in a three-and-out with DeShawn Pace giving Keene a bone-rattling hit.
After an 8-yard punt courtesy of a block by Josh Whyle, Ridder led the Bearcats on a 38-yard drive lasting a bit over four minutes. After rushing for a key 1st and goal, Ford took the rock the rest of the way for the game's first tally.
The Ford truck would score again before the end of the frame after Ridder led the red-clad troops 66 yards going 6-of-7 through the air.
After two sputtered drives in the second quarter, the Bearcats found the black end zone again. Two big chunk plays came from Ford (20-yard rush, 23-yard reception) getting them to the 19-yard line, Ridder then chucked the proverbial jump ball to Pierce for a 21-0 lead.
After yet another punt by UCF's Andrew Osteen, Ford matched his career-high with a 79-yard scamper down the sidelines. That's the same distance he scored from in last January's Peach Bowl vs. Georgia.
"Once I hand the ball I kind of see it work out," Ridder said. "Lorenz Metz pulled and filled the gap and cleared a big hole. 'Rome shot right through it!"
Rubbing salt into the wound for UCF, UC's Pace picked off Keene of the Knights on the ensuing series.
A few plays later, Ford walked into the right-side of the end zone for his fourth score of the contest, 2;53 before the half. UCF averted the shutout on their final drive of the half. After picking up just their second first down of the game, Keene hit Brandon Johnson on a 16-yard scoring pass to cut the deficit to 28.
UCF drove to the Bearcat 28 late in the third quarter, but Coby Bryant's pick-six went 76 yards to put UC up 42-7. It was Bryant's first college touchdown. Bryant credited his film study for jumping the route.
"I'm not going to doubt my speed at all, once I caught it I knew I was gone," Bryant said. "If they come at me I'm just going to hold my own. I'm an elite corner. I expect them to come my way. I'm up for the challenge. I have to do my part and make the play."
Keene and the Knights added another score at the end of the period with Isaiah Bower running in from the 4-yard line after a targeting call on Jacob Dingle moved the Knights close.
The Bearcats had dialed back the offense in the fourth, but Ty Van Fossen's recovery of a muffed punt return gave the red jerseys another look in the red zone. Sophomore Ethan Wright scored to increase the lead again to 35.
Redshirt freshman Evan Prater directed the offense in the game's final minutes and danced in from six yards out to put the Bearcats over the half-century mark for the second game in a row, the first time in school history it's been done back-to-back. UC scored 55 points twice last season against Austin Peay and East Carolina, respectively.
Just don't accuse the coach of seeking style points.
"I have no style," Fickell said. "My wife's the only one that has any style. I don't know what style really looks like. I'm all about playing four quarters. I'm all about playing complementary football and grinding things out. Is that a good style, a bad style? I don't know."
Luke Fickell's Bearcats go to Navy next Saturday for another noon kick. UCF drops to 3-3 with the loss.
Former Bearcat running back Isaiah Pead was in the house watching Ford's efforts. Pead is No. 10 on UC's all-time list for rushing yards per game at 213 (2010) and saw Ford approach his mark. Post-game Ford said he's watched tape of Pead.
Former Connecticut and NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky was ABC's color commentator for the game. In 2001, he dueled with current UC quarterback coach Gino Guidugli at Nippert when he played for Randy Edsall. Orlovsky was 27-for-50 for 382 yards and three scores compared to Guidugli's 13-for-24 for 245 and a touchdown. However, DeMarco McCleskey ran for 101 yards and the Bearcats of Rick Minter won the game 45-28.
More Minter minutia
UCF coach Gus Malzahn was inducted into the Henderson State Hall of Fame in 2012. The following year, former UC coach Minter was inducted.
UCF 0 7 7 7 21
CINCINNATI 14 21 7 14 56
UC - Ford 1-yard run (Smith kick)
UC - Ford 2-yard run (Smith kick)
UC - Ridder 19-yard pass to Pierce (Smith kick)
UC -Ford 79-yard run (Smith kick)
UC -Ford 4-yard run (Smith kick)
UCF - Keene 16-yard pass to Johnson (Obarski kick)
UC - Bryant 76-yard INT return (Smith kick)
UC - Wright 2-yard run (Smith kick)
UC - Prater 6-yard run (Smith kick)
UCF- Richards 2-yard run (Obarski kick)