CINCINNATI – When you follow a legend, impressing a demanding fan base is not going to be easy.
Just ask Ben Bryant.
The Bearcats quarterback heard the boos Friday night early and often during a 27-25 win over East Carolina that keeps UC right in the mix for a third straight AAC championship bid.
By his own admission, Bryant struggled early Friday, leading an offense that totaled minus-10 yards on its first two possessions. After getting sacked to end the first series, he didn’t see an inside pressure on the second possession and held onto the ball too long along his own goal line, a critical mistake that was punished by a sack for a safety.
Bryant, who returned from Eastern Michigan to try and fill the shoes of Desmond Ridder for his senior season, finished 14-of-30 for 244 yards and two touchdowns in Friday’s win.
“I definitely wasn’t the sharpest. I recognize that. I’m my own sharpest critic. I’m definitely not happy about that. You can’t turn a win into a loss. I’m happy we won. I’m happy we fought it out but yeah, there’s definitely some things to improve on for next week (at Temple).”
The Bearcats defense picked him up to a degree, allowing just a field goal. And when he did have time, which was most of the night, he overthrew receivers several times, including twice on go routes that were easy touchdowns if not for misfires by Bryant.
But say this for Bryant, he was resilient. After missing Tyler Scott on a wide-open route for six in the second quarter, he came back on the next play and hit Tre Tucker on a wide receiver tunnel screen for a 55-yard touchdown.
Tyler Scott taking his turn to show off his speed!!??#AmericanFB x @GoBearcatsFB pic.twitter.com/MAj8r7jiQY
— American Football (@American_FB) November 12, 2022
He missed a wide-open Jadon Thompson down the left sideline for a touchdown in the second quarter. The Bearcats settled for a field goal and a 24-12 halftime lead.
Even when he put the ball on the spot, like a perfect pass to Will Pauling in the end zone in the fourth, Bryant couldn’t catch a break. Bryant led the Bearcats to the game-winning drive. And that’s really what Luke Fickell was looking for Friday, a player to step up when the team had blown a 21-5 lead and needed a drive.
No rafters? No problem.
Had to get @CoachFick to hit that ECU victory celebration one last time.#Bearcats pic.twitter.com/nEZ6IiOuCo
— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) November 12, 2022
Bryant’s attitude and work ethic is what earns him the respect of his teammates and head coach. Leaders are made when they’re not performing well and still find a way to impact a game and lead the team to victory.
“I usually grab a few guys after a game like that or after a victory, and sometimes it’s those guys that have phenomenal games, and then sometimes it’s a guy that is playing his butt off and doing so much that I want them to be up in front of those guys,” Fickell said. “He takes some criticism, he takes some flack, you heard them out there tonight and you know what, to me, it just shows the care. I can promise you five years ago there was you couldn’t hear a boo in the crowd.
“So, in some ways, I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard on him. But to me that’s what we kind of want to get him up there for us to make sure he understood how much we appreciate what is he does and how hard he fights for us.”
And that is what makes Bryant so popular in the locker room.
“I just told them how much I appreciate them,” said Bryant. “They have all have my back. Coaches, players. I’ve put a lot of work into this program. They all know that. It’s just really fun to be back here, playing with these guys, grinding out wins with them. I just told them how much I appreciate them and (I’m) excited to keep this rolling.”
Think about what Bryant was asked to do. He took over for the most accomplished quarterback in school history at a program that was coming off a 13-0 regular season before a CFP national semifinal loss to Alabama. He’s led them to an 8-2 mark overall and a 5-1 record in a highly competitive American Athletic Conference.
Luke Fickell praised Ben Bryant to the team after Bearcats win when Bryant wasn’t at his best, something Bryant acknowledged after. pic.twitter.com/TfqnLk17kd
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) November 12, 2022
And if they keep this rolling next week in Philadelphia and the following Black Friday at home against Tulane, Fickell will gladly remind them that November isn’t about quarterback rating or passing records. Just look at the track record of Friday night’s guest at Nippert – Desmond Ridder – for a reminder of that.
“November is for champions and November is for championship teams,” head coach Luke Fickell said. “You want to be playing for something in November. We could all say we are always playing for things, but what you do in January and what you do in that offseason is really meant for November.
“We talked about playing your best ball at the end of the year and a lot of things go into that but it’s the way I was brought up. Coach (Jim) Tressel, former Ohio State football head coach, instilled and pounded that into my head for 10 years about what it means to play in November and what you have to do. We try to continue to pound that in. That’s a big philosophy of how we do things and what we want to do.”
And, in good times and bad, Ben Bryant has completely bought into that philosophy.