The 21st-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats put their new top-25 ranking on the line this weekend, taking a break from their Big East and FBS schedule to play host to the Fordham Rams at Nippert Stadium.
Butch Jones' third season at the helm in Cincinnati has been a highly successful one thus far, as the team has jumped out of the gate with four consecutive wins, topping Pittsburgh (34-10), Delaware State (23-7), Virginia Tech (27-24) and most recently Miami-Ohio (52-14).
Joe Moorhead is in his first season at the helm of Fordham. A former standout quarterback for the Rams, Moorhead most recently served as offensive coordinator for Connecticut before taking the FCS head coaching job at his alma mater. The Rams play in the Patriot League and are 4-2 on the season following last week's 38-31 victory over Georgetown.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams on the gridiron. The Rams are fighting an uphill battle, with Cincinnati boasting of a 23-game win streak at home against non-conference opponents.
The Rams were able to generate 419 yards of total offense in their win over the Hoyas, including 318 yards passing. Quarterback Ryan Higgins completed 29- of-38 passes in the game, for 305 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target was Brian Wetzel, who hauled in eight balls, for 123 yards in the win. Carlton Koonce provided offensive balance with 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Fordham's numbers on the year are similar, with the team getting balance between the run (160.7 ypg) and the pass (267.3 ypg). Higgins has completed an efficient 68.2 percent of his throws thus far, for 1,468 yards, but has just eight TD passes against five interceptions. Wetzel leads the team in receptions (32) and receiving yards (445), but it is Greg Wilson (23 catches, 303 yards) who paces the squad with four TDs.
Koonce has been a driving force on the ground for Fordham and is averaging 135.3 yards per game on 5.4 yards per carry. He already has 812 yards and five TDs as Fordham's feature back.
While the Fordham offense is averaging 428.0 yards per game, the defense is giving up almost as much (391.5 ypg). Still, the Rams know how to get upfield and make plays, amassing 31 TFLs and 17 sacks this season.
Senior linebacker Michael Martin leads the team in tackles (65) and TFLs (7.0) and is tied with junior linebacker Jake Rodrigues (46 tackles, 5.5 TFLs) for the team-lead in sacks with 3.5 apiece. Junior cornerback Ian Williams (38 tackles) has played well in the secondary, responsible for three of the team's five interceptions to date.
The Bearcats will present a challenge for Fordham's defense, as Cincinnati comes into this contest averaging a robust 463.8 yards per game, netting over 200 yards both on the ground (223.2) and through the air (240.6). The Bearcats rank in the top-10 nationally at 6.6 in yards per play (10th).
Against the RedHawks last week, it was tailback George Winn leading the way, finishing with 128 yards and two TDs, as the team amassed a season-high 272 yards on the ground. Winn, who is averaging 111.5 yards per game, has made things much easier on first-year starting QB Munchie Legaux. The 6-foot-5 junior has completed 55.0 percent of his throws, for 946 yards and nine touchdowns against three interceptions.
There isn't a go-to-guy in the passing game, although wideouts Kenbrell Thompkins (13 receptions, 211 yards, one TD), Anthony McClung (12 receptions, 156 yards, one TD) and Damon Julian (11 receptions, 184 yards, two TDs) and tailback Ralph David Abernathy (10 receptions, 194 yards, three TDs) have all had their moments.
The defensive numbers have been rather strong for Cincinnati thus far, with the team allowing just 13.8 ppg on 364.2 yards of total offense. The team has 11 forced turnovers, including a season-high four against the RedHawks last week.
Senior middle linebacker Greg Blair tops the team in tackles (36) and is also responsible for two of the team's seven interceptions. Junior safety Arryn Chenault (22 tackles) also has two picks to his credit, while senior end Walter Stewart (18 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) headlines the play along the defensive front.
Jones sees Fordham as a real challenge.
"They are an execution based system, you look at their third down defense, offensively they are comprised of a lot of seniors so they are coming here obviously with great confidence. I think there is so much that we have learned already through four games this season the way we approach things the way we conduct our business and they are going to present some challenges but just like any opponent it���s about us."