College Football: 6 things to know about Miami vs. Cincinnati

Miami football fans trying to glean some nuggets of hope from the quicksand of another 0-3 start might want to check out James Gardner.

The sophomore wide receiver took over the team lead in receptions with 12 and yards with 245 after making five catches for 136 yards – including a 70-yard touchdown catch-and-run – in the RedHawks 31-24 loss to Western Kentucky last Saturday.

The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product capably stepped up to help fill in for senior Rokeem Williams, who was sidelined with an injury. He now has more touchdown catches with four this season than he had overall catches – three – last season.

“It’s just good with Gardner,” sophomore quarterback Billy Bahl said. “He has a huge catch radius. You can put the ball anywhere near him and he’ll make a play on it. Having a guy like that is huge for my confidence. If the throw isn’t perfect, he can still go get it.”

When Williams returns, which could be Saturday at Cincinnati, he and Gardner could team up to give opposing secondaries significant cause for concern – even those as accomplished as Cincinnati’s.

Think a two-pronged passing game can’t make the difference? Miami hasn’t beaten the Bearcats since a 44-16 win in 2005. . Josh Betts went 22-of-39 for 359 yards and three touchdowns, two to Martin Nance and one to Ryne Robinson. Nance finished with eight catches for 119 yards and Robinson added six for 127 yards.

Miami limited Cincinnati to 66 rushing yards in that game. The Bearcats gained 30 on the ground in their 40-16 loss to No. 6 Houston on Sept. 15.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Here are six other things to look for:

Bahl vs. the Bearcats’ defensive secondary

Miami’s second-year starter has thrown one interception in three games going into his first Victory Bell start. Cincinnati, led by senior safety Mike Tyson, has picked off nine passes – five in a win at Purdue on Sept. 10 and two in a loss to Houston on Sept. 15. One of those was returned for a touchdown, helping Cincinnati stay in the game before the Cougars pulled away. Tyson has three interceptions, more than his total over his previous three seasons.

The emotion

Even though the Bearcats have won the last 10 games, Miami still leads the overall series. The rosters are chock full of players who’ve played with or against each other, some since grade school, and while familiarity breeds contempt, it also breeds respect.

“It’s a huge game for everybody,” third-year Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “As I’ve said before, I have almost never met somebody from Miami who doesn’t bring up Cincinnati in the first 10 seconds.”

What about Cincinnati?

“They’re a very, very talented team with a very good coach (Tommy Tuberville),” Martin said. “I watched the Houston game, so I know how talented Cincinnati is.”

Can Cincinnati shake off a disappointing loss?

The Bearcats took a 16-12 lead over No. 6 Houston three seconds into the fourth quarter before the Cougars erupted for four touchdowns, two on interception returns on the way to a 40-16 win.

“Our guys are obviously a little bit down, but we’ve had three days to get over that,” said coach Tommy Tuberville, whose mother passed away in Arkansas last Saturday. “Now we’re back on a normal schedule after playing one Saturday game and two Thursday games, trying to get in a rhythm during the week.

“Our defense played very well, considering who we were playing against and also considering that our offense only had 30 yards rushing. About the middle of the fourth quarter we got tired, mentally and physically. We played over 90 plays on defense. We did a great job of not turning the ball over (in Cincinnati’s first two games) and then we jumped back in there and started to turn it over, giving them a short field.”

Does having two extra days between games give the Bearcats an edge?

“It’s a little bit of an advantage from the health standpoint,” Martin said. “They have two more days to recover. Other than that, I don’t think the time frame will have an impact on the outcome of the game.”

Can Miami get over the hump?

After the Bearcats’ 52-14 win in 2012, the next three games have been decided by a combined 25 points and the last two by a total of 10. Miami has been in position to win each of the last two games but couldn’t finish the deal – a familiar storyline for the RedHawks. Is this the week they figure out how to win?

“We’re looking forward to getting the game to the fourth quarter,” Martin said.

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