No. 20 Cincinnati has passed all its tests since a season-opening loss at Arkansas, but it has not always been pretty.

Next up, the Bearcats will face perhaps their toughest test since Week 1 on Saturday when they travel to Orlando to take on UCF.

A week after rallying to beat South Florida 28-24 on Oct. 8, Cincinnati (6-1, 3-0 AAC) fended off SMU 29-27 last week. The Bearcats led by 15 points after three quarters, but the Mustangs came within a two-point conversion of tying the game with less than two minutes left.

SMU benefited from 14 Cincinnati penalties for 128 yards.

“We’ve got a lot of self-inflicted issues, and that’s not taking any credit away from the guys we’ve played,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. “We had some issues on false starts again. … We know that those self-inflicted ones that we always talk about are the things that are in some ways holding us back and putting us in some situations that are draining, challenging, trying.”

The Bearcats have won three straight meetings with UCF (5-2, 2-1) for a 4-3 edge in the all-time series. But it was the Knights who gave them their biggest scare in 2020, the first of two straight years they finished the regular season undefeated.

UCF led Cincinnati 14-3 after one quarter and 25-22 after three the last time the Bearcats visited Orlando. Then-quarterback Desmond Ridder helped Cincinnati escape with a 36-33 win.

“It’s gonna be uniquely different this week,” Fickell said of visiting the stadium known as “the Bounce House,” FBC Mortgage Stadium.

“This is our first true challenge since Week 1 to go on the road in a hostile environment and play a great football team. Not taking anything away, like I said, from the teams we played on the road. They haven’t been hostile environments since Week 1, and this will be that.”

Since taking over UCF in 2021, coach Gus Malzahn has praised Cincinnati as one of the best teams in the country, not just the conference. The Knights have a potent offense, but Malzahn was quick to note that the Bearcats lead FBS in both sacks per game (4.14) and tackles for loss per game (9.3).

“Very aggressive defense,” Malzahn said. “They really challenge you and play a lot of man. Then they’ll pressure you and play some zone. Offensively they’re very strong up front, they run the ball, they’ve been balanced. Just overall a complete football team.”

UCF has a top-20 scoring offense in the country (37.3 points per game), aided by a 70-13 rout of Temple two weeks ago. But they are coming off a 34-13 road loss to East Carolina.

Dynamic dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee had his worst outing of the year. He threw for 296 yards against East Carolina but tossed three interceptions without a touchdown. He was also held to 38 rushing yards on 2.7 per carry.

“We weren’t able to get off the field. They punted one time all night,” Malzahn said of East Carolina. “We turned the ball over three times. You’re not going to beat any quality team like that. So it’s really, you just said it, self-inflicted wounds. To have a chance to beat a team like Cincinnati, it’s common sense — you can’t do that.”

Running back Charles McClelland headlines the Cincinnati offense. He has rushed for 308 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries over the past two weeks.

–Field Level Media