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Cotton Bowl Semifinal Preview: When Cincinnati has the ball

How much can Jerome Ford and the Bearcats score on Alabama?

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

In his 5th year at Cincinnati, head coach Luke Fickell has put together a team with a spread offense built on running the ball, and he’s scoring darn near 40 points per game doing it. Fickell is a Big 10 guy as longtime defensive coordinator for Ohio State, and the offense he took to Cincinnati is very much inspired by the Ohio State offenses of the mid 2010s.

The entire gameplan is based around the read option, with QB Desmond Ridder being a threat to run, throw on the run, or hand it off on any given play. Ridder has 100 attempts on the year, and while he’s not a terrifyingly dynamic runner, he’s got good enough speed to beat defensive linemen to the edge and will pick up strings of first downs with his legs.

The real scoring threat, though, is running back Jerome Ford. The former Alabama player has worked his way into the feature role for the Bearcats and has 1238 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground at an absurd 6.2 yards per carry. Ford is a speedy home run threat who breaks off a huge touchdown run nearly every game. And while he lacks some of the chain moving power or slipperiness of some running backs, he speed and vision make him the big-play threat on every play while Ridder keeps drives alive.

His backup, Ryan Montgomery, only has 45 carries. He’s used rather sparingly as Ford needs a break, but is every bit the big play threat, as he’s averaging 6.9 yards per carry.

As far as receiving options, senior Alec Pierce is the go-to man. At 6’3”, he’s got a massive catch radius and pulls in a whole lot of downfield throws that may have been inaccurate. He’s not the fastest guy out there, but his ability to erase the mistakes of a QB are huge in terms of keeping the offense moving along until Ford can hit a big run. Pierce leads the team with 853 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Behind him, diminutive sophomore Tyler Scott has 477 yards and the even smaller junior, Tre Tucker, has 414 yards. And then tight ends Leonard Taylor and Josh Whyle are quite often the recipients of playaction rollout passes, and the two have combined for 800 yards.

In terms of efficiency statistics, I won’t go to into detail. Our own Erik already broke down a lot of that here. In short, the Bearcats have been a somewhat inconsistent offense. While they score at a high clip, they also go backwards way more often than a top-4 caliber team should. While their offensive line excels at getting out and blocking in space, they’re also susceptible to being overpowered in short yardage situations and will definitely give up some pressure on expected passing downs.

Going by the Draftkings Sportsbook, the betting folks are expecting the Bearcats to score about 22 points on Alabama. Judging by the similarly boom-or-bust nature of the Alabama defense, expecting about 3 big plays from the Bearcats with 8 more drives going nowhere seems reasonable. If anything, I’m going to err on the side of closer to 24-27 total points for Cincy.

Jerome Ford will likely find his way into the second level one time, and I figure Ridder will hit a receiver on a busted coverage a couple of times while running some heavy play fakes and boot actions. But overall, the Tide defense doesn’t allow any sustained drives and get enough negative plays to keep this from becoming a high-scoring affair.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.