Come high noon at Nippert Stadium Saturday it will have been 84 days since the University of Cincinnati became an official member of the Big 12 Conference. Right after "The Big Noon Kickoff Show" ends at Bearcat Commons, Coach Scott Satterfield's squad will wait no longer as they storm the field against Oklahoma's 3-0 Sooners currently ranked No. 16 in the latest Associated Press poll.
— Big Noon Kickoff (@BNKonFOX) September 18, 2023
"Great offense averaging 55 points a game right now," Satterfield said of the Sooners. "Dillon Gabriel's a really good quarterback. He throws a really good deep ball. They really stress you defensively horizontally and vertically and they go extremely fast."
Who has Oklahoma defeated?
The Sooners blew out Arkansas State in their opener 73-0 and just tormented Tulsa 66-17 last Saturday. In between they were somewhat sluggish against SMU taking a 14-3 halftime lead only to see the Mustangs get within a field goal in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma then answered with a pair of touchdowns for the 28-11 final.
What Oklahoma coaches are saying about the Bearcats
This week, defensive coordinator Ted Roof took note of UC's running game enhanced by the mobility of Emory Jones.
"They're one of the top rushing offenses in the country," Roof said. "I believe they're eighth in the country. The least amount of yards they've been held to this year is 219. That's a lot!"
Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby knows the reputation of the Bearcat defensive line, particularly Dontay Corleone.
"He's a guy that's played incredibly well," Lebby said. "They've got a bunch of guys. It's a big, long physical group and we've got to do a great job of being able to mix it up, changing the tempo."
Head coach Brent Venables, who was defensive coordinator in the previous two meetings (2008,2010) is also very cognizant of the Bearcat front line.
"This is going to be a line of scrimmage football game, both sides of the ball," Venables said. "They're physical, relentless, aggressive, confident, all those things. They've got great perspective. They haven't lost their mind through a little adversity and they'll be ready to compete."
3 keys to victory for Cincinnati
1. Pressure quarterback Dillon Gabriel
UC is somewhat familiar with Gabriel from his days at UCF. In 2019, UC defeated Gabriel 27-24 when the Knights were No. 18. The Bearcats picked him off three times and sacked him three times. In 2020, UC won in Orlando 36-33, again with three sacks.
This week he comes in as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week after going 28-for-31 for 421 yards and five touchdowns at Tulsa.
"He has a strong arm," UC defensive back Taj Ward said. "He's very smart. He goes through his progressions and he will use his feet. We definitely can't sleep on him. He's a pro. He thinks like a pro."
2. Take advantage of the red zone possessions
UC had 30 first downs to Miami University's 16 and 538 yards of total offense to their 358 but struggled inside the 10-yard line. Oklahoma has scored in all but one of the red zone possessions with 14 of the 17 being touchdowns.
"When you get down into tight red, somebody has got to beat somebody else," Satterfield said. "There were several times where running backs and quarterbacks had one-on-one with their guy and they got us down. At some point, we've got to try to win those and get into the endzone. As coaches, we could have done a lot better and put our kids in better position to make plays."
Note: Sooners haven't trailed yet through the first three games.
3. Defend the deep ball
"They're always looking to push the ball down the field," Satterfield said. "What makes them so good is the horizontal passing game. The screens, the quick-outs, the bubbles that are happening on the sideline."
In those scenarios, look for Oklahoma to quickly snap it again, pushing the ball downfield hoping to catch a tired defender off-guard.
Players to watch
Obviously, native Hawaiian southpaw Gabriel is a threat at quarterback. The redshirt senior has a lengthy resumé. At Louisville, Satterfield's staff downed Gabriel and UCF 42-35 in 2021.
"He's not going to miss very many throws," Satterfield said. "He's not a tall quarterback (5-11,204) but they do enough things to hinder the rush so he's got a little more time back there. And, they're going really fast. He's completing 82.5% of his passes. That's incredible!"
Oklahoma had three players with over 100 receiving yards vs. Tulsa as Jalil Farooq had 126, Big 12 Newcomer of the Week Nic Anderson had three touchdowns plus 120 yards and Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony had 112.
For UC, Ryan Montgomery had 104 yards rushing vs. Miami for a career-high and Emory Jones added 101. UC is No. 8 in the country in rushing offense and 12th in total offense. But, Oklahoma is No. 3 in scoring offense to UC's No. 30.
"Losing to Miami is very stinging to this entire program and everybody in it," Montgomery said. "I'm trying to be a leader and say,' You know we're 0-0 in conference play. Everything we want is right in front of us.'"
If UC can turn the shame of the Miami loss into positive momentum, they could pull a surprise. Oklahoma was 3-0 last year, then lost their next three. The energy of the "Big Noon Kickoff Show" could help, but realistically the network pundits aren't going to favor UC based on a boatload of mathematical evidence.
This is likely the best of the Big 12 teams on UC's 2023 menu.
OKLAHOMA 34, CINCINNATI 17
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Bearcats vs Oklahoma Sooners score prediction