Momentum can be a killer in football. Most games, especially between equal opponents, have a natural flow where momentum will shift from team to team with the team who holds it last most likely to finish the game on top.
Well, in today's game, on the road, against the #25 Houston Cougars, Cincinnati mistakes killed the little momentum they had, and needed, against a top 25 team. Between a blocked punt, a red zone fumble, interceptions and drive-killing/drive-extending penalties, Cincinnati continued the unfortunate theme of being terribly mistake-prone at inopportune times.
The game began surprisingly slow as both offenses stalled on their first drives in the pouring rain. A couple quick drives gave way to the first big play of the game, which was a fumbled snap on a Sam Geraci punt. Geraci picked the ball back up, but his subsequent punt attempt was blocked, setting the high-powered Cougars offense up at the Cincinnati 20. Houston scored quickly after that, needing only five plays to get Kenneth Farrow into the end zone on a two-yard touchdown run.
Gunner Kiel got the Cincinnati offense on the board a couple drives later with two big throws. He hit Johnny Holton Jr. for a 65-yard gain and then found Chris Moore for a 25-yard touchdown pass on the next play, tying the game at 7-7.
Houston responded with a six-play, 79-yard drive that was capped off with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Greg Ward Jr. to Chance Allen. With Houston leading 14-7, Kiel led the Bearcats down the field again, setting up a 1st and Goal situation on the Houston 10. Tion Green fumbled on the very next play, giving the ball back to the Cougars.
Cincinnati's defense held Houston to a three-and-out, forced the punt and got the ball back to Cincinnati. The Bearcats offense used big plays to drive down the field, setting up a 7-yard pass from Kiel to Cole. The Cincinnati defense held the Houston offense, forcing a turnover on downs and the Bearcats went into the half tied 14-14, despite a blocked punt and giving up a fumble.
And... this is where things got complicated...
The third quarter began with an onside kick by Cincinnati's Andrew Gantz, although it didn't appear that Tomm Tuberville made that call. Then Houston's drive began to stall out, but a very late late-hit on Ward extended the drive on third down. Flash-forward to a 4th and Goal from the Cincinnati 1, after the Bearcats defense had held tough in the goal-line situation. There was clear movement on the left side of the Houston offensive line, which prompted the Cincinnati defense to stand-up, unprepared for the Ward snap. Ward was eventually tackled, well short of the goal, but a facemask was called on Cincinnati (which you could debate). The following reactions from the Cincinnati players lead to three unsportsmanlike penalty calls on Cincinnati.
This all eventually led to Ward finding a wide-open Tyler McCloskey for the 1-yard touchdown pass and the 21-14 lead. Two plays later, Kiel gave away another seven points with a big mistake on an interception that was ran back by Houston's Brandon Wilson, pushing the score to 28-14 in favor of the Cougars.
With momentum clearly in Houston's favor, Cincinnati's offense traded punts with Houston's leaving the Bearcats deep in their own territory. Houston, who was blitzing all day, brought safety Trevon Stewart on the blitz and Stewart sacked Kiel in the end zone for a 12-yard loss and a safety, pushing the score to 30-14 and giving the ball back to Ward and company.
With Houston driving, the Cincinnati defense finally made an impactful play on a deep throw that Zach Edwards tracked for an interception. He was called down on the Cincinnati 1, but Kiel quickly drove the offense 99-yards down the field for a 20-yard touchdown to Shaq Washington. Cincinnati went for the two-point conversion where a trick play led to Kiel catching the conversion off a Washington pass, pulling within eight.
While the Bearcats' defense did enough to hold the Houston offense to only three points on their next possession, but the Cincinnati offense couldn't avoid yet another mistake with another blitz from Stewart forcing an errant pass to fall into the hands of linebacker Steven Taylor.
The Cincinnati defense, again, bailed the offense out with a huge interception by Bryce Jenkinson, forced by their own tipped pass. The offense rewarded the defense's effort with an impressive 7-play drive, capped off with another Kiel-Moore connection; this one for 29-yards. Interestingly, Hayden Moore then came in to convert the two-point conversion, again bringing the score to 33-30, in favor of the Cougars with just over five minutes left in regulation.
Houston was unable to put the game away against the Cincinnati defense, setting up Kiel with just over two minutes and down three points. Cincinnati could only manage 27-yards on the drive though, eventually failing on 4th and 10, letting the Cougars close out the game in the victory formation.
The offensive production was there this week and the Cincinnati defense gave the Bearcats life on a couple occasions against Houston, but too many mistakes doomed the Bearcats, who drop to 5-4 on the season. Next week, the Bearcats host the offensive firepower of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at 7:30 PM ET at Nippert Stadium.