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Game Preview: Bearcats Welcome in SMU on Senior Day

Cincinnati is 4-1 all-time against the Mustangs.

CINCINNATI — Senior Day is upon us in the Queen City as No. 5 Cincinnati gets ready to battle SMU during their final home game of the 2021 regular season.

The Bearcats are 4-1 all-time against the Mustangs and are riding a two-game winning streak in the series. Quarterback Desmond Ridder and the rest of UC's seniors can become the outright winningest class in program history with one more victory this season (41-6 between 2006-09).

The Bearcats enter the game as 11.5 point favorites, and ESPN's matchup predictor gives the home team a 75.6% chance to stay undefeated on Saturday. Cincinnati is No. 6 in ESPN's SP+ metric, while the Mustangs sit at No. 33. A win by Cincinnati punches their ticket to the 2021 AAC Championship game.

SMU brings a high-powered offense into a matchup where something's got to give. Quarterback Tanner Mordecai has been throwing flames all season. He is seventh nationally in passing yards (3,264), second in passing touchdowns (37), and 11th in completion rate (69.9%).

The junior is playing lights out and is the main reason why the Mustangs only have two losses on the season. Overall, SMU ranks 15th nationally in scoring (41.6 PPG). It will be interesting to see how much this attack can hurt the Bearcats on Saturday.

Cincinnati is allowing the sixth-fewest points in the country (16.2 PPG allowed), but they haven't looked like the same team since thrashing UCF 56-21 on Oct. 16. Over the past month, The Bearcats have allowed 4.7 yards per play and a 111.1 passer rating.

That is a slight uptick from the first half of the season, but it's been enough to keep games close. Things feel even tighter when the Bearcats aren't running the ball down people's throats. They were routinely over six yards per carry in the first half of the season and have seen that average drop to 4.2 YPC since playing UCF.

That spells trouble against an SMU team playing with house money. The Mustangs allow just 3.4 YPC on the ground (18th nationally), and the Bearcats still have question marks at that spot. Bell-cow running back Jerome Ford is questionable for this game after not playing against South Florida.

Even when Ford's been out there lately—he hasn't been productive—rushing for 3.6 YPC combined against Tulane and Tulsa. Shifting back to the opposing pass attack, SMU matches up nicely with the Bearcats there as well.

The "Blackcats" secondary is arguably the best in the nation ranking No. 2 nationally in TD passes allowed (6), No. 5 in passing yards allowed (164.4 YPG), No. 2 in interceptions (16), and No. 1 in opponent completion percentage (52.4%). The group has been lights out, but they rely on plenty of man coverage with elite cover corners like Coby Bryant and Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner able to hold their own against every receiving unit they've faced in 2021.

Mike Tressell has his work cut out for him with this game plan. According to Bill Connelly, Mordecai is destroying man coverage this season—passing for 13.1 yards per attempt with an elite raw QBR of 93.9 against the defensive scheme.

The cupcakes have come and gone—outside of ECU (80th in SP+)—UC will face a current Top-40 team in SP+ the rest of the season. A season they hope ends with the National Championship Trophy held above their heads. First they have to slow down Mordecai and the Mustangs passing attack.

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