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17th of November 2018

Sport



Alabama A&M tasked with trying to crack Cincinnati's nationally ranked defense

Alabama A&M officials knew the challenges that came with scheduling a game against Cincinnati.

The Bulldogs, an FCS program, have a roster with 22 fewer scholarship players than the FBS Bearcats. Then there's the matter of going on the road and playing in front of more than 30,000 opposing fans.

But what Alabama A&M couldn't have envisioned is how good Cincinnati (2-0) would be playing in the early going, particularly on defense. The Bearcats are tied for seventh in the nation in scoring defense (8.5 points per game) and are No. 13 in total defense (252 yards per game) after defeating UCLA 26-17 and Miami of Ohio 21-0.

"When you've got animals, it's about the Jimmys and the Joes," Bulldogs coach Connell Maynor said, "and they've got some up front, at linebacker and in the secondary. It's going to be tough sledding this week, but we're going to play one play at a time and see what we can do."

A&M football among 4 sports hit with postseason ban, scholarship reductions

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Nippert Stadium. The game will be streamed live on ESPN3.

Alabama A&M (1-1) showed balance on offense in a 25-20 loss to UNA last week, passing for 216 yards and running for 121. But the Bulldogs couldn't make several clutch plays, turning the ball over on downs twice in Lions' territory, including the 1, and losing a fumble that led to UNA's winning touchdown.

"Offensively, we showed that the only thing that can stop us is us," said sophomore quarterback Aqeel Glass, who threw two touchdowns and an interception. "If we do our job executing plays, and we don't worry about anyone else, then we're going to be a very hard team to stop."

UNA edges A&M in first meeting since 1997

Cincinnati has yet to allow a touchdown pass while recording two interceptions, and the Bearcats are allowing only 101.5 yards rushing per game.

"(We expect) a lot of pressure, a lot of man coverage," Glass said. "But they put their pants on one leg at a time, like we do. so I'm not worried too much about it. I'm going to go out there, do my job and try to get a win.

"I'm going to have to make sure that we come out fast and we start good, because if you let a defense like that jump on you early, it's going to be a long game. We've got to come out fast and come out physical."  

Alabama A&M lost to three FBS opponents last season, scoring seven points against UAB and getting shut out by Vanderbilt and South Alabama. The Bulldogs are 0-10 against FBS teams over the past six years. Coming right at youAlabama A&M's defense is bracing for a heavy dose of running plays. The Bearcats average 191 yards on the ground, led by sophomore running back Michael Warren (233 yards, 5 touchdowns) and redshirt freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder (163 yards). Ridder has completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 145 yards and a touchdown.

"We're going to see how it plays out on the first series," Maynor said, "and if we need to, put an extra man in the box, play some man and try to force them to beat us with the passing game."

Cincinnati running back Michael Warren II (3) gets a hand off from quarterback Desmond Ridder against UCLA, Sept. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) 

Warren was Ohio's Mr. Football in 2016 following his senior season at Toledo Central Catholic. Ridder, who is averaging 5.1 yards per carry,  took over at quarterback during the UCLA game, replacing incumbent and Clay-Chalkville alum Hayden Moore.

"We have to gang tackle, we have to contain (Ridder)," Maynor said. "Anytime you have a great player, he's going to get his yards, but we can't let him just have 40-, 50-, 60-yard runs. We have to try to contain him and make sure that we tackle well in space."

Familiar territoryAlabama A&M lost 52-10 at Cincinnati in 2015. Among the current senior Bulldogs who were on the roster at the time were receivers Octayvious Miles and Marceles Clash, safeties Dylan Hamilton and David Whitehead, linebackers Jalon Douglass and Yurik Bethune, defensive tackle Vernon Moland and fullback Jeron Jones.  Miles averaged 19.3 yards on six kick returns, Clash had a 14-yard catch and an 11-yard run, Hamilton and Moland each made two tackles and Douglass recorded one stop.

The 2015 meeting marked Cincinatti's return to Nippert Stadium following an $86 million renovation. The Bearcats played their 2014 home games at Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals. This year's matchup is the home opener for Cincinnati, which went west to face UCLA, then played Miami at Paul Brown Stadium.

Injury updateMoland, a 2017 postseason and 2018 preseason first-team All-SWAC selection, will miss the Cincinnati game with an undisclosed injury. He has yet to play this season. Moland is expected to return for the SWAC opener against Southern on Sept. 22 in Mobile.

QuotableMaynor: "It's a great opportunity for our guys to play up against an FBS program. All our guys want to play at that level; it's their opportunity to prove somebody wrong. We're going to go in, play as hard as we can and try to keep the game respectful; if not, it is what it is. It's a money game; the FCS programs have to play money games. What we want to do is be competitive and get out of their injury-free."

Glass: "It's a great opportunity, not only to show my skill set, but for everybody else to show theirs, and show that, football is football; if you can play, you can play, no matter where you're at."

Maynor: "We need to work on us and improve on what we did last week. We need to be more consistent; surges of greatness will get you beat."

Glass: "I'm honestly a lot more comfortable. The system fits well. (Quarterbacks) coach (Jason) Mai, coach Maynor, (offensive coordinator) coach (Duane) Taylor have all done a great job helping me, mentally, with the games, to help the game slow down for me."

Looking back at the UNA loss

Maynor: "At the end of the day, we had that one turnover; (UNA) got seven points off a turnover and we got three (off a turnover). We've got to be able to get off the field there when sudden change comes. The defense has to step up and say, 'We've got to get a stop here.' We weren't able to do that. They made one more play than we did."

Maynor: "Aqeel made some plays. It's his second year. He's got three years to play in this system. It's still a young season and we've got a young team that made young mistakes. We're going to get that corrected and (Glass) is going to be a great player for the next three years."

Maynor: "I wanted the guys to remember that feeling, when you play so hard and work so hard, and it's a tight game and we come out on the losing end. Remember that feeling so we can work to prevent that feeling from every happening again."

Alabama A&M schedule

Sept. 1: Won 37-0 vs. MilesSept. 8: Lost 25-20 vs. UNASept. 15: at Cincinnati, 6 p.m.Sept. 22: vs. Southern*, in Mobile, 4 p.m.Sept. 29: at Jackson State*, 2 p.m.Oct. 6: at Texas Southern*, 6 p.mOct. 13: vs. Alcorn State*, 2 p.m.Oct. 20: ByeOct. 27: vs. Alabama State*, in Birmingham, 2:30 p.m.Nov. 3: at Arkansas-Pine Bluff*, 2:30 p.m.Nov. 10: vs. Grambling*, 1 p.m.Nov. 17: at Mississippi Valley State, 1 p.m.*-SWAC game

Daniel Boyette covers Huntsville sports for AL.com.

Follow @danielboyette

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