After a nail-biting first half and an unnerving third quarter, the Bearcats are now 6-4 and officially bowl eligible. It took longer than many expected, but Cincinnati has hit the six-win mark with their 49-38 win over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
The performance wasn't pretty for the Bearcats. In fact, you could argue that this game perfectly encapsulates what the Cincinnati football season has been thus far. Gunner Kiel made throws that many quarterbacks can't. The run game was powerful and the receivers were uncontainable. Even the defense showed a "bend don't break" element to their game that we have seen occasionally this season. However, for all that good, there were head-scratching mistakes. Turnovers and defensive miscues gave Tulsa multiple chances that teams like Temple, Memphis, Houston and BYU have taken advantage of throughout the season. Cincinnati played well when it mattered, but this game felt closer than it needed to be.
Tulsa's offense is explosive and they showed it right from the beginning with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Dane Evans to Conner Floyd.
Facing a Tulsa defense that came in ranked 116th in total defense, the Bearcats' offense found ways to the move the ball down field, although it took some time to find their rhythm. On their second offensive drive, the Bearcats opened up the passing attack and set up Mike Boone for a 12-yard touchdown run, tying the game, 7-7. Cincinnati would take their next offensive drive 80 yards, again throwing the ball around with a 15-yard run sprinkled in for Hosey Williams. The drive ended with a touchdown pass from Kiel to Max Morrison from 17 yards out.
Another short drive for Tulsa resulted in a punt, with the Cincinnati defense playing tough after that opening drive. They were doing it without Bryce Jenkinson at linebacker, who was ejected early in the game for targeting.
With a 14-7 lead and their defense playing well, the Bearcats' offense took the field with the opportunity to really begin putting the game out of reach early. The drive went for 44 yards on 10 plays, but ended on a bad decision by Kiel. He was pressured up the middle and ended up lobbing the ball to a defender for an easy interception and a drive-killer. It took only four plays for Tulsa to capitalize with a touchdown. On fourth and one, Tulsa ran the ball and Ramadi Warren bounced the play to the outside for a 65-yard touchdown run. The play tied the game at 14.
Cincinnati would respond, this time by emphasizing the run. Boone displayed his natural ability as a runner as he broke a couple solid runs and eventually scored on a 4-yard run. Cincinnati would miss a field goal before half, leaving the halftime score 21-14 in favor of the Bearcats.
After a scoreless Cincinnati possession, Tulsa took the ball 95 yards and tied the game up on a D'Angelo Brewer 4-yard run. It took only moments for Tulsa to take the lead with Kiel fumbling on Cincinnati's next snap. He didn't feel the pressure coming and was loose with the ball, setting up Tulsa at the Cincinnati 20. Tulsa would take the 24-20 lead, which would be their last of the game.
To Kiel's credit, him and the Cincinnati receivers came out firing on their next drive, driving 74 yards in five plays. Kiel hit Chris Moore for a 12-yard touchdown pass to take the 28-24 lead.
Holding onto the small lead, Alex Pace forced a fumble for the Bearcats' defense with Malik Clements on the recovery. The play proved to be the final swing in momentum for Cincinnati as Tion Green would run in for a touchdown three plays later and the Bearcats never looked back.
Tulsa would miss a field goal and turn the ball over on downs on their next two possessions. Cincinnati scored on a 20-yard run by Williams, pushing out to a 42-24 lead. Green did fumble on Cincinnati's next possession, setting up another Tulsa score. An exchange of garbage time touchdowns wrapped up the game giving Cincinnati the 49-38 win.
The offense was once again explosive and unstoppable, when they didn't stop themselves, racking up a healthy 652 total yards with 386 yards through the air and 266 yards on the ground. Boone got the bulk of the carries and rewarded the Bearcats with 137 yards and three touchdowns. Kiel's performance was uneven with the big yardage total, two touchdowns, but two turnovers between the interception and fumble.
Despite the yardage and points, the Cincinnati defense did their part. They made a couple plays with Silverberry Mouhon sacking Evans twice and with Pace's fumble at a key time. They continue to make some mistakes that come with youth, but this unit is beginning to make some situational plays, which is promising.
Cincinnati will travel to play South Florida next Friday night, starting at 8 PM ET. The Bulls are coming off a blowout win over Temple.