Two interim head coaches and plenty of missing key players are casting a shadow as Cincinnati faces Louisville on Saturday in the Fenway Bowl at Boston.
Luke Fickell left the Bearcats to become coach at Wisconsin while Scott Satterfield departed Louisville to become Fickell’s replacement at Cincinnati. Satterfield won’t take over as coach until after the contest at legendary Fenway Park.
Cornerbacks/special teams coach Kerry Coombs is Cincinnati’s interim coach, while director of player development Deion Branch was named Louisville’s interim coach.
Coombs isn’t trying to hit one out of the park, but remain in the background as the Bearcats (9-3) look to win at least 10 games for the fourth time in five seasons.
“The team at the University of Cincinnati over the last 15 years has been incredibly resilient through coaching changes,” Coombs told reporters. “What the constant has been is that they show up every Saturday in that stadium or wherever they are, and they play really hard. They play for each other. They play for this town. They play for the city. They play for that 300-mile radius. They do all of those things.”
Louisville (7-5) hired away Jeff Brohm from Purdue and he also isn’t involved this week. Branch, a former Cardinals star and NFL receiver, was stunned to be appointed interim coach.
“It still hasn’t set in. I think it’ll take until Saturday,” Branch said after a recent practice. “The more and more I’m out here with these guys, and see how much these young men look forward to me giving them the proper guidance, I’m here to do that. That’s my role.”
Louisville won’t have quarterback Malik Cunningham, who opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft. Cunningham ranks seventh in school history with 62 passing touchdowns. Brock Domann (866 passing yards this season) will start in his place.
Cardinals’ running back Tiyon Evans and cornerback Kei’Trel Clark also pulled out to prepare for the draft. Standout receiver Tyler Hudson also won’t play.
Cincinnati receiver Tre Tucker and tight end Josh Whyle opted out to prepare for the draft, while first-team All-American Athletic Association cornerback Ja’Quan Sheppard departed and announced he is transferring to Maryland.
The Bearcats are led by first-team All-American linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., who ranks third nationally with 19.5 total tackles for loss. Pace, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, has 120 stops and nine sacks.
Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant has thrown for 2,731 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
This is the 54th meeting between schools located roughly 100 miles apart, but the first since 2013, when both were members of the then-newly-formed AAC. The two schools were also in the Big East together from 2005 to 2012. The Bearcats hold a 30-22-1 lead in a series that began in 1929. The Cardinals and Bearcats used to play for the Keg of Nails trophy.
This is the first-ever Fenway Bowl. It was supposed to debut last year, but a matchup between SMU and Virginia was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
–Field Level Media